In The iPad Revolution: It’s 1984 All Over Again I described how with the iPad Apple is attempting to redefine the human/computer interface, doing away with the mouse and windows and replacing it with the iPhone’s multi-touch display. Of course, if Apple is even partially successful you have to ask who will try to eat their lunch. I said Microsoft was unlikely to as , “[they have] shown no talent at producing a compelling portable touch interface.” Well, Redmond seems intent on proving me wrong. Endgadget has a hands-on demo of Windows Phone 7 Series, and they seem pretty impressed.
The demo is short and feature-light, but it definitely looks worlds better than Windows Mobile ever did. Microsoft is also taking a page from Apple’s one-size-fits-all attitude toward hardware: there will be strict specifications for what devices include, standardizing much of what was once a wild west of features. The demo looks more complex than the iPhone, but that’s to be expected; Windows devices have always opted for more options, more features, more…more.
But is it enough? At this point Microsoft is definitely the third player at the table after Apple and Google. That won’t necessarily slow them down; it didn’t in the videogame console business. Still, unlike videogames where the platform OS doesn’t matter much but the controllers are nearly identical (the Wii’s motion-sensing being the notable exception to the uniformity of push buttons and thumbpad/sticks) there is likely to be consolidation in the multi-touch device market. Just as someone who uses Windows these days can switch to a Mac and still understand how to delete a file, it will eventually be the case that someone who uses one multitouch device will have little trouble switching to another.
So who will be the template the others follow or die trying? Apple has the lead, especially now with the iPad. Google at least has several shipping phones, and several other devices either available now or soon. Microsoft has phones on the way, but apparently nothing tablet-sized. Apple once had the lead in GUI-based computers, but lost it. Whether they can hold onto it now depends on their ability to satisfy the broad market as well as keep software — serious software, not just games — flowing.