Can Microsoft Give Apple A Run For The Money In Touch Computing?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off the company's touch-screen based

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off the company’s touch-screen based “Surface” computer in May 2007, just a month before the launch of the iPhone. But since then, Apple has dominated the touch revolution so thoroughly that it might as well have copyrighted it (or patented it—but that’s another story).

That’s certainly the case when it comes to the critical question of application support. So far, there are well over 10,000 applications for the iPhone and iPod touch that use Apple’s multi-touch technology. According to CNET’s Dawn Kawamoto, just 120 companies have created apps for the Surface.

No doubt, this isn’t a totally fair comparison, given that the iPhone is a mass market mobile device, while the Surface is a $12,500, 30-inch table-top style device that’s available only for commercial purposes. According to Microsoft, it’s available only “in the areas of financial services, retail, hospitality, health care and automotive.”

Nonetheless, Microsoft is keeping at it. It just expanded distribution to twelve countries. And real estate giant Coldwell Banker just introduced a new app for the platform. Here it is.

And going forward, Microsoft is pushing touch as one of the marquee new capabilities in Windows 7, the next big release of its flagship operating system.

Clearly, both companies have the capability to bring touch to the large form factor device—the laptop PC, the desktop PC, even the TV. They have very different advantages, as usual. Microsoft has scale, a massive distribution network of retailers and other partners, and a head-start. But Apple brings consumer marketing and product panache, great interface design, and pure momentum. Indeed, a major reason Apple lost the PC wars for all those years was lack of developer support. I don’t think that will happen this time around.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.