Will Microsoft beat Apple with its 'giant iPhone'?

The dawn of the third-generation PC

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Will Apple be first to ship?

For two decades, Microsoft critics and Apple fans have bashed Microsoft for copying Apple's user interface innovations. First with the graphical user interface concept itself, then with Windows 95 and, most recently, Vista. Never mind that everyone, including Apple, copied Xerox.

Surface kills such bashing -- no one will be able to say Microsoft followed or copied Apple.

However, they will be able to say that iPhone was technically the world's first third-generation device. The similarity between Surface and iPhone was made obvious in the official Microsoft press release, which said: "Imagine quickly browsing through music and dragging favorite songs onto a personal playlist by moving a finger across the screen."

Uh, no need to imagine that. It was clearly displayed in Steve Jobs' Macworld keynote in January. But the iPhone's limited processing power allows it only a tiny fraction of the real power of full-size, third-generation computers.

Call me irresponsible, but I think there's a chance that Apple will announce something similar to Surface next week, and possibly even beat Microsoft to market with it.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs will deliver a keynote address at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference on June 11. He is expected to show a feature-complete version of the Mac OS X Leopard. Given Jobs' habit of rolling out surprises at such events, it's reasonable to speculate that he might unveil a third-generation interface product -- a Surface competitor -- that runs on Leopard and an Intel-based hardware platform to go with it.

A shock third-generation desktop UI announcement from Jobs June 11 would provide another reason for Apple's recently announced delay for Leopard. In any case, Microsoft's Surface ships in November while Leopard is expected in October. If Leopard comes with a surprise third-generation user interface option, it would beat Microsoft to market. If such a product is for consumers, we'll see Jobs on the cover of Time again.

If, on the other hand, Apple and Jobs have nothing in the third-generation space up their collective sleeve, we're looking at a whole new ball game. The perception and the reality will be that Microsoft, not Apple, is the leader and innovator in the next-generation desktop user interface department.

Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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