In a case that experts say may restrict the already limited access Latinos and African Americans have to the Internet, Apple and Samsung are locked in an increasingly bitter patent dispute involving smartphone technology such as autocorrect and slide-to-unlock.
The standoff between these two major players in the mobile device market has dragged on for three years, starting with a federal lawsuit that Apple filed in California claiming patent infringement by Samsung involving smartphones.
Samsung, whose products have grown in popularity, lost the suit, with Apple receiving significant damages.
The legal battle continues, though, with a potentially negative impact on lower-income households, including African Americans and Latinos whose primary gateway to the Internet is often low-priced smartphones that are manufactured and sold by companies like Samsung.
A recent study found that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to use smartphones than whites as their primary online vehicle. Research also shows that African Americans and Latinos overwhelmingly favor Google’s Android phones, the operating system on phones made by Samsung, HTC, LG and others, by a 40% margin.
As part of additional damages it is seeking, Apple, once the most dominant player in mobile device industry, is asking the court to require Samsung to pay it $40 for individual smartphone that Samsung sells in the United States.
In the past, Apple also petitioned the court to prevent the sale of certain Samsung mobile devices. The court turned down Apple’s request. But an appeal by Apple is underway.
Given that many minority consumers rely heavily on mobile devices to go online, a number of outside observers are voicing concern over Apple’s attempts to ban certain products and demands for sizable patent licensing fees.
Some observers warn that the demands, if met, could increase costs in the mobile marketplace and thereby aggravate the racial divide that already exists online, at a time when Americans increasingly turn to the Internet for the most basic tasks, from paying bills to shopping, to more pivotal tasks, like job searching and marketing a business.
By and large, Apple serves a relatively exclusive clientele, whereas Samsung’s devices have wider demographic appeal, including smartphones for people on tighter budgets.
On average, an iPhone is over $300 more expensive than an Android phone. The average Android phone
was priced at just $276 in 2013, reduced in price by over $400 since 2010. The average iPhone, on the other hand, was reduced in price by $52 in the same time span.
In a recent article, Kristal High, an expert on broadband adoption among minority, low-income and underserved populations, suggested that low-income consumers would bear the burden of an Apple victory.
“While the Apple devices are tailor-made to fit the tastes and pocketbooks of people with greater financial resources, many Americans choose to use Android phones because they offer all the functionality and style of leading-edge smartphones at roughly half the price of an iPhone,” Ms. High said.