The Coming Computer Interface Wars

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For a generation, I told friends that computers were a box connected to a TV set for output, a typewriter for input and a tape recorder for storage, all sitting on a desk.

Apple's ( AAPL) iOS changed all that. Now we think of only the screen. Touching the screen replaces the typewriter, and the tape recorder is replaced by memory chips. The whole thing can be held in one hand. You can walk around with it.

A personal computer, it turns out, is more like the box held up by a store clerk in Intel ( INTC) co-founder Gordon Moore's famous Electronics article, which now lives at Intel's Web site. Writing in 1964, Moore had no idea of what interfaces would matter: The computer was just intelligence, processing at the center of it all.

So iOS is not the final evolution of computer interfaces. Already, Apple Siri and its imitators are telling us we can talk to our computers, like the late James Doohan tried to talk to a Macintosh in Star Trek IV. Microsoft's ( MSFT) Kinect, and now Leap Motion's gesture device, tell us that we don't have to touch the screen to interact, that we can use a form of sign language.

Those who are dismissing Apple's latest earnings, thinking there's nothing for the company to innovate beyond its current lineup, are missing this key point. The very nature of computing is about to be transformed.

Above my screen right now sits a Logitech ( LOGI) camera, purchased for an abortive career as a Web TV personality. The microphone is studio-quality, and the video output is also top-notch. But that's becoming more than an input device. It's becoming an interface.

By this time next year, instead of talking in front of the camera about stocks and technology, I might use the camera, and the microphone, to tell the computer what to do, to control software, making it my interface with an operating system.

The camera itself cost me just $50. At that price I can have one in every room. If a product combining voice, visuals and gesture interpretation is part of an operating system, one shared by all the screens in the home, now I'm walking, talking, and interacting with technology as naturally as I might with my family.

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