Government regulators in the U.S. and Europe are also monitoring Apple, Google and Microsoft for any sign they are wielding key patents to gain an unfair competitive advantage in the mobile phone market.
Apple's stable of popular mobile devices and the conjoined market for selling digital content will become even more pivotal if the vision of the company's late co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, pans out.
The way Jobs saw it before he died five months ago, technology is in the early stages of a phase that will de-emphasize the importance of personal computers running on Microsoft's software. Instead, people will rely on sleek, highly portable devices that traverse high-speed Internet connections to fetch content and other files stored in far-flung data centers.
If Apple fulfills its destiny as foreseen by Jobs, the company will dominate this "post-PC" era with its array of iPhones, iPads and possibly a revolutionary television set. Jobs hinted at Apple's looming breakthrough in TV during interviews with his biographer, Walter Isaacson.
As it is, the iPad already has grabbed 62 percent of the tablet computer market, according to IMS Research.
Even if Apple's market share grows larger, the company may be able to minimize its potential antitrust headaches by pointing to what should still be fierce competition in both smartphones and tablet computers, Henneberry says. For instance, more than 300 million devices are already running on Google's Android software, and major PC makers such as Hewlett Packard Co. and Dell Inc. are hoping to make a dent in tablet computers this year with devices running Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 8.
Apple has already girded for more government attention. At the end of 2010, it hired Kyle Andeer, a former antitrust lawyer for the FTC and Justice Department. Andeer became the first antitrust specialist on Apple's internal legal team.
"Any big U.S. tech company understands that when they are successful enough to create and expand markets, they may get government scrutiny," says David Turetsky, an antitrust attorney with the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf in Washington. "Apple is going to keep antitrust lawyers very busy for some time to come."
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