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Microsoft to fight Apple with massive iPhone

Apple vs Microsoft for next-gen interface

With this technology, you'll be able to wirelessly sync your phone, Zune or camera with the Surface computer by simply placing the gadget on the screen. Placing a Wi-Fi camera on the screen starts an auto-sync, and the photos inside the camera "spill out" on to the screen.

Look for super-expensive consumer Surface Computing PCs late next year. However, as with most things in technology, prices will decrease, so look for cheap Surface PCs in three to five years.

Why Surface Computing matters

Three things are surprising about Ballmer's announcement. First, Microsoft was able to keep the project a secret. Second, the first product will ship as early as this year. Third, Microsoft adds to the existing research on third-generation user interfaces the concept of recognising objects.

Pundits, the press and users - including me - have been hard on Microsoft lately. And for good reason. Flaccid Vista sales and confusing Vista versions, high prices, lame initiatives such as the Ultra Mobile PC and a general lack of innovation have given the company an increasingly bad reputation.

But Surface is a spectacular home run. The secrecy, the implementation, the rollout plan, the early marketing all impress.

Surface appears to give Microsoft an early lead in the next generation computing platform, and, significantly, it thrills partners like Intel and others. Surface craves massive computing power. It guarantees another decade - or two - of global demand for ever-newer, bleeding-edge hardware. And even though Microsoft will build the initial hardware itself (using partner components, of course), it's likely that the company will extend the platform to PC makers like Dell and HP.

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 on to 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.

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