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Nexus 7 Magnetic Sensor Could Be Trouble for Google, Asus

Google may have kept the Nexus 7's magnetic sensor feature a secret on purpose: to get the 7-inch Android tablets out on the market before Apple's sniffed a possible patent infringement. But the cat's now out of the proverbial bag, as one developer stumbled across the sensor on Wednesday, almost a week before the Google tablet ships.

The big deal is that this sensor turns the screen on and off when using a magnet. This is a handy gadget for peripheral makers who plan to release Nexus 7 Smart Covers that will turn the screen off when the protective flap closed by the user. The sensor is located at the bottom left-hand side while in portrait mode, and can be activated by swiping a magnet on the front or back.

Unfortunately, Apple has been using the same Smart Cover technique on its notebooks and the iPad 2 for some time. Heck, Microsoft reportedly has a similar feature on the just-announced Surface Windows 8-based tablet. But in Apple's case, the company naturally has a patent covering the Smart Cover magnetic system.

But Asus and Google may not be in quite such hot water. Android Police points out that Apple's patent on its Smart Cover seems to be narrowly tailored in form and function for the cover and iPad mechanism specifically. It focuses more on the Smart Cover's ability to latch onto the host device rather than turning the screen on and off. There's also talk in Apple's patent of a "useful functionality" being added to the Smart Cover, but the language itself seems to indicate it falls only within Apple's particular design and mechanism, and doesn't try to cover every tablet-based Smart Cover on the market.

Even more, the Nexus 7's magnetic sensor is actually located near the pogo-pins that have been set aside for a future dock device. A possible argument in court could be that the magnetic sensor has nothing to do with a Smart Cover peripheral, but is ready to be used with the upcoming dock. As of this writing, Google still has not updated the Nexus 7 product listing with the magnetic sensor feature, nor is it listed in the Nexus 7 Cover's description. It's also not mentioned on the pre-sale product pages provided by Office Depot, Sam's Club and Staples.

Still, despite doubts over the patent wording, will trigger-happy Apple take Google and Asus to court over the functionality? It's possible given that the Nexus 7 is a direct threat to the iPad. Whether Apple succeeds in banning the Nexus 7 will depend on the lawyers deciphering the patent wording.

Kevin started taking PCs apart in the 90s when Quake was on the way and his PC lacked the required components. Since then, he’s loved all things PC-related and cool gadgets ranging from the New Nintendo 3DS to Android tablets. He is currently a contributor at Digital Trends, writing about everything from computers to how-to content on Windows and Macs to reviews of the latest laptops from HP, Dell, Lenovo, and more. 

  • zzz_b
    Was there at least one time that Apple didn't take to court someone that made a product that resembled any of Apples's own? I do not think so. It will be interesting.
    By the way, did Apple patent the magnets in general? :)
  • mariusmotea
    In many cases the patents are given very easy. How can you implement this function if not with a simple magnet?
  • klavis
    They can't sue over the sensor, the blackberry had that well before Apple. If they make a case that is exactly like Apples, then yes, but as it stands, no.
  • sylar75
    Yes Apple did patent magnets, thank you for asking. They also patented the square, the rectangle, the pushbutton, the colors black and white, the camera, the use of your fingers, Icons and rounded edges. It seems triangular tablets with olfactory controls are the only way to produce a tablet now. Fart to unlock your tablet...
  • ojas
    Oh my god, this is too much now, seriously.

    Anyway, nothing's going to happen in Asia so don't really care.
  • sylar75
    Imagine if every other company was like Apple... Wait a minute!! Why are those rounded cereals like our Cheerios?! And the NERVES!!! They even added a hint of HONEY!! To arms my brethren, we shall defend our IP!! (Indigestible Pabulum - Alright, that was weak!)
  • Yes, blackberry had it long ago, but did they patent it? It doesn't matter who invented it, it only matters who submitted the patent.
  • lamorpa
    The best strategy would be if Apple spent its time biting on my yonka-bone instead of filing moronic patents on general concepts and harassing other companies by abusing the overworked patent office's confused people.
  • frish
    You say that as if Google and Asus havent considered Apples patents. Of course they have...
  • jerm1027
    StormChargeYes, blackberry had it long ago, but did they patent it? It doesn't matter who invented it, it only matters who submitted the patent.That's how Edison got famous!