Apple's iPhone touch screen and the big picture

Apple's iPhone touch screen and the big picture

Summary: If you think Apple's iPhone touch screen is just a neat cell phone interface you're missing the big picture--and possibly three to four years of new products. That's the message from UBS analyst Benjamin Reitzes.

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TOPICS: Apple
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If you think Apple's iPhone touch screen is just a neat cell phone interface you're missing the big picture--and possibly three to four years of new products.

That's the message from UBS analyst Benjamin Reitzes. According to Reitzes, the iPhone and its touch screen interface signal the beginning of a multi-year product cycle. The analyst argues that Apple is likely to see "a replay of the iPod multiplier effect." That term refers to what happened when Apple launched the iPod, offered new online services around it and sold more Macs along the way.

In other words, Reitzes sees the iPhone touch screen fueling years of new Apple products. Is there any reason that the iPhone touch screen won't make it to the iMac, iPod or any of Apple's products?

Here's what Reitzes says in a research note:

"We believe the multi-touch platform initially to be shown in the upcoming iPhone can be integrated into several products, including Macs and iPods, facilitated by Apple's software and retail ecosystem. We believe this 'mega-platform' could help Apple become an open-ended growth story again, with a logical chronology."

If Reitzes' theory is on target--and it sounds quite plausible--Apple will offer a neat counterpoint to Microsoft's approach. Microsoft's big focus is voice as an input to the multiple devices. That's why the software giant bought Tellme. Apple could be touting touch as the best way to work with your devices.

"We expect multi-touch to be prevalent in Apple’s major hardware products within three to five years—making its way into touchscreen Macs next year. We also foresee new touch screen video iPods, ultra-portables, more phones, and possibly even TVs," writes Reitzes.

The big question: Is touch or talk better? Ideally, I'd have both working well, but initially look for touch to gain traction a bit faster.

Even if you don't buy Reitzes touch argument, he makes a valid point on seeing the big picture when it comes to product announcements. Since the Jan. 9 iPhone launch most of the chatter has been about features of the device and its potential. Collectively, all observers should zoom out to see the big picture.

Reitzes said:

"We believe some in the investment community are too focused on the minute details of the initial iPhone that was announced (talking about the choice of Cingular initially, 2.5G technology, price points, etc.) and ignore the power that lies in the unannounced multi-touch “ecosystem” that can be integrated into several products across Apple’s portfolio, including Macs and iPods—all facilitated by vertically integrated software. We believe Apple is in a position with the multi-touch platform similar to its position in 2001-03, when it launched its first iPods with the popular click wheels. At that time, it was perhaps irrelevant to focus on the details of the initial iPods—things like capacity and the relatively high $399 price point."

Point taken. Remember this argument when touchscreen iMacs hit the market. There's most likely a bigger product plan and roadmap to be found.

Update 11:05 PDT:

One lingering question is how this touch screen idea would be implemented in practice. John, a reader, noted the following in an email:

Consider putting the touch screen into a keyboard.  The biggest knocks I know against touch screens is the large arm motion, the software that may put a button anywhere, and having to wipe off fingerprints.  Trackball with a touch screen towards the inside so that for a righthander you're looking at keyboard, touchscreen, trackball (or mouse) from left to right.

Interesting point. Thanks. 

Topic: Apple

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44 comments
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  • Couiple of thoughts

    It would be interesting to resurrect the 2001 iPod predictions (MP3s already in market, features same, high price-point) and "replace all" iPod->iPhone. Seem pretty similar to me.

    I commuted a ton via train, and with cellphones, talking, and singing along with MP3 players, I would much prefer a touch interface to a voice interface on laptops or phones. I also have spent most of my working life in cubicals, so using a voice interface would compound the noise issue.

    Thanks,
    HairyR
    hairyR
    • Agreed

      I also spend a lot of time commuting on trains and a touch interface would lend itself to that environment much better than a voice interface.

      But really I think that each paradigm suits a different subset of tasks.

      Well developed touch interfaces lend themselves to device control and manipulation functions. However accurate voice interfaces would work well in any area that involves typing, not simply selecting from a list of predefined entries like a phone book. For example a Blackberry that would let you dictate email to would be pretty useful.
      nmh
      • I'll take multi-touch over voice to space anytime

        nmh writes: "But really I think that each paradigm suits a different subset of tasks. "

        Well, at least when I'm in space I'll be sure to have my multi-touch devices with me.
        YinToYourYang-22527499
      • As seen on "Star Trek: The New Generation"

        Did you notice the resemblance of the iPhone / iPod touch with the computer of the Enterprise? It's great to have the possibility of changing the on screen layout to best fit your needs.

        On the same show we see the characters using voice to control the computer in stead of going to a terminal to touch the screen or when they are performing other tasks.

        Maybe Steve likes the show and took the idea from ST.

        I guess both technologies will coexist peacefully.
        Jediguardian
    • Agreed

      I also spend a lot of time commuting on trains and a touch interface would lend itself to that environment much better than a voice interface.

      But really I think that each paradigm suits a different subset of tasks.

      Well developed touch interfaces lend themselves to device control and manipulation functions. However accurate voice interfaces would work well in any area that involves typing, not simply selecting from a list of predefined entries like a phone book. For example a Blackberry that would let you dictate email to would be pretty useful.
      nmh
      • Dictating email

        would be nice, but the last thing we need on commuter trains is more people shouting their personal or professional business to everyone around, none of whom really want to hear it.
        msalzberg
        • Amen to that

          The people on the train already talk too much on their cells--and the ones that start never stop. I can't imagine these same fools talking to their laptops. For that reason only I'm rooting for touch screens.
          Larry Dignan
        • The popular shout among hackers

          DELETE ALL CONTENTS OF DRIVE C!!!
          YinToYourYang-22527499
      • Oh, please, no

        No dictated email. The last thing I need to read is someone's rambling stream-of-
        consciousness 3000 word email dictated while they're on the toilet.
        frgough
        • LOL . . . .

          "And so, in conclusion FLLUUUUSSSHHH!!!!"


          I wonder how the translator will render that?
          JLHenry
    • One HUGE difference

      [i]It would be interesting to resurrect the 2001 iPod predictions (MP3s already in market, features same, high price-point) and "replace all" iPod->iPhone. Seem pretty similar to me.[/i]

      Apple went up against portable MP3 player companies that did absolutely no marketing at all. None. The situation is quite different with cell phones.

      Also, while Apple was quite late to the game when compared to the manufacturers of portable MP3 players, Apple was still in before consumers had entered the market en masse. Cell phones and PDAs are [b]everywhere[/b] so not only is Apple late when compared to the manufacturers of cell phones and PDAs, they are also trying to enter a market that most consumers are already a part of.

      Finally, the iPod was a stylish entry in a market place full of purely functional devices. You wanted functionality, you went with anything but the iPod. You wanted style and, at that time, the iPod was the clear leader. Not only does the cell phone market already have devices that are stylish, the iPhone trades off [b]huge[/b] amounts of functionality for a style that is [b]already[/b] present in the market. In other words, not only does the iPhone offer [b]nothing[/b] new in terms of style, it severely limits what you can actually do with it.

      What I think is quite hilarious is that everyone is touting touchscreen as something new. Sorry guys but touchscreen has been done and been done for a while. There is [b]nothing[/b] new about the iPhone other than it raising the bar on just how crippled an Apple product can be! However, it will sell 30 million units a year: one to every Mac owner every year since the batteries will only last that long and they can't be replaced.
      NonZealot
      • MANY little INSIGNIFICANCES

        Like your ignorant rantings mean nothing.
        YinToYourYang-22527499
      • So what you're saying

        The iPhone will be very successful, selling 30 million per year?

        Great thanks for the insight 'Zealot'
        dave95.
        • Kudos to Apple executives!

          Taking advantage of the brainless is great for the executives of Apple... not so great for consumers of Apple's products. Assuming you aren't an Apple executive... well... you do the math. ;)
          NonZealot
          • I don't know Non........

            What you consider missing features and what was your previous statment
            limitations or sacrifices I consider "stuff I don't need or want" While much of what
            the iPhone seems to offer me at least is stuff I could make use of and would want
            in such a device. It's a phone....cool. It's a music player ie iPod...not bad.
            Portable camera..OK. BUt what makes it wow is that huge screen that I can use in
            multiple angles and viewing areas for portable entertiamnet and that is what
            interests me. That and the computer features that I might make some use of. I'm
            not seeing a big problem for the iPhone so far frankly it seems to simplfy the
            swiss army knife rather nicely without the bulk so many tools so little bulk. Cool!

            Pagan jim
            Laff
          • Jim, do you own a Mac?

            Like I said, Apple will sell 30 million iPhones a year to everyone who currently owns a Mac. Mac owners will justify away all the crippling aspects of the iPhone and play up the things that they really want, totally ignoring that those things have been available from companies other than Apple for 3 years now.

            [i]simplfy the swiss army knife rather nicely without the bulk[/i]

            This is humorous considering the iPhone is bigger than nearly every other phone out there today. :)
            NonZealot
          • Which goes to the point of the screen size...Like it or

            not a big screen requires something like the iPhone to work effectively and yet
            with the touch screen controls you eliminate the need for a keyboard or
            keypad...buttons in general. Allowing the iPhone to be rather slim so size one way
            and not so much the other. As for all those features like I said they never
            interested me.....

            I don't plan on buying one right off however I'm going to wait for iTunes to
            develope more....the iphone also a few more generaltions I think to see what
            works and what does not.

            Yes I own a Mac and an XBox and XBox 360....I even have a MS intellimouse
            attached to my MacBook as we speak. Do you own a Windows PC and a
            SmartPhone? What's the point?

            If it works for me it works for me and that's something you can't argue about.

            Pagan jim
            Laff
  • A classic Dilbert situation re voice recognition

    Imagine the person in the next cubicle giving a "delete files" command and the subsequent screams from those within ear shot as their computer files suddenly disappear :-) (I know there's more to it than that but it would make for a good Dilbert moment)

    Didn't George Ou cover a present, potential voice recognition problem with Vista? (malicious audio commands thru the speakers being picked up by the machine and carried out?)

    Fact is stranger than fiction at times...

    ...
    MacCanuck
    • Ou & Carroll

      Ou did mention the possible problem of a malicious .wav file triggering a voice command. John Carroll then came up with the wonderful mental image of the truck with the speakers on top blaring "FORMAT C:" driving down the road.

      Frankly, I think that'd be less obnoxious than the current campaign trucks that sometimes went around shouting about someone.
      Robert Crocker
  • Microsoft and Apple take divergent roads

    Microsoft is traveling down the road of voice-activated control, and
    Apple is migrating to touch-screen input.

    It will be interesting 5 years from now to see which technology wins
    with the consumer.

    (My bet is on touch-screen input...)
    bukweet