Wait ... That Isn't the iPhone!

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) won't be the first to introduce a touch-screen smartphone when the iPhone reaches store shelves on June 29.

HTC, a Taiwanese phone maker, has created the TouchFLO, which, like the iPhone, boasts a touch-sensitive display. Click here for a demo. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Notice how HTC positions the TouchFLO as if it were a piece of electronic paper to be manipulated by your digits. The iPhone offers similar browsing, but it also serves up a widescreen option that the TouchFLO lacks.

The TouchFLO is something of a lightweight compared with the iPhone in other areas, too. For example, whereas the iPhone will offer its users as many as 8 gigabytes of data-storage capacity, the TouchFLO is apparently confined to a single gig.

Still, the TouchFLO's interface strikes me as impressive enough to woo plenty of customers. Bill Gates must be smiling, because Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows Mobile powers the TouchFLO, adding to a list of smartphone successes that includes Palm's (Nasdaq: PALM  ) Treo as well as numerous Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) models.

For now, the TouchFLO is confined to the UK, where Orange is selling it to its telecom customers. Here in the States, AT&T (NYSE: T  ) hopes to cash in on the iPhone as the exclusive provider of that device. HTC, meanwhile, expects to begin U.S. shipments "later this year," whatever that means.

Frankly, I don't think the TouchFLO will do much to derail the iPhone when it arrives here. But I could be wrong, especially if consumers prove to be more price-sensitive than they have been in the past.

Press reports say HTC's high-end phones rarely sell for more than $400. There's no reason to believe that will change with the TouchFLO. By contrast, the low-end version of the iPhone will retail for $499.

What's more, research suggests that the iPhone will draw a limited audience upon release because of its premium price. Only 6% of respondents in a recent survey said they'd seriously consider buying the device. Not "yes, I'll definitely buy," but "maybe."

Still, that's just one survey, and AT&T says it has had more than 1 million inquiries from potential iPhone customers. To me, that says this edition of the iEverything has captivated too many imaginations for it to be derailed by a lightweight rival.

The next generation, however, could be up for grabs. For if the TouchFLO proves anything, it's this: Apple's revolutionary iPhone design isn't nearly as revolutionary as many of us, including yours truly, were led to believe.

Get ready for an iWar, Apple investors.

An iSmorgasbord of related Foolishness awaits:

Microsoft is an Inside Value recommendation. Palm is a Stock Advisor pick. Click on the appropriate link to try either service risk-free for 30 days. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Fool contributor and longtime Mac addict Tim Beyers thinks the TouchFLO is cool but will be buying an iPhone when his budget allows. Tim owned shares of Nokia at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy wonders when smartphones will be smart enough to cook dinner.


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