It may be a little early to say this, but to me it seems like Microsoft took all the disappointment and fear resulting from Apple’s dominance of the mobile devices category over its own products through the years and used that energy to create the Courier. […]

It may be a little early to say this, but to me it seems like Microsoft took all the disappointment and fear resulting from Apple’s dominance of the mobile devices category over its own products through the years and used that energy to create the Courier. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen another company’s product and thought “That seems like something Apple would’ve made.”

Engadget posted more details about the device late last week, including two lengthy HD interface videos. Microsoft isn’t yet officially saying anything about whether or not this will become a production device, but Engadget seems very confident in its sources, and I’d be inclined to believe them since it seems more than likely Redmond is taking a page out of Apple’s marketing playbook by keeping things somewhat hush-hush but using “leaks” to steal focus.

Microsoft gets a lot of flak for doing a tablet the wrong way, as demonstrated by the HP model it unveiled ahead of the iPad to grab some of the attention away from that spotlight hog. But the Courier doesn’t have the same shortcomings. For one, it’s not based on Windows 7, but on a version of Windows CE 6, which also provides the basis for the Zune HD’s interface and the upcoming Windows Mobile 7 OS. It also runs on the Tegra 2, an impressive mobile processor.

It also has some considerable advantages over its Apple rival, especially if the hype is actually representative of what a production version will look like. First, there’s the size. The clamshell design allows it to be smaller than the iPad, while providing more screen real estate. Closed, it’s said to measure five by seven inches, and still remain less than an inch thick. It should also weigh less than a pound. It should take up just a little less space than the Amazon Kindle, for reference, which goes a long way toward making it truly, conveniently portable.

The Courier’s big advantage over the iPad, for me, isn’t the dual-screen design (although that helps), but the combination of pen and touch input. If I had to choose one, I’d go with touch, as Apple’s done with the iPad, but the opportunity to have both is a major selling point. Viewing the UI videos emphasizes why, and if you’ve ever used a tablet with a computer, especially those with a built-in display, you’ll know why a pen is a much better option than trying to learn to write or draw with your clumsy finger.

Microsoft’s notebook tablet is also refreshing because of its emphasis on interactivity between components and hardware features of the device. The software seems designed from the start to work perfectly not only with the specific features of the device, but also with every other software component of the OS, and all through a brilliantly intuitive UI. Nor is it a closed system despite this sharp focus, since the sharing features appear to be rich and varied.

Apple, for its part, emphasizes the apps. Apps are great, and they provide some pretty useful functions and terrific distractions, but they don’t really seem to work as well or with the same degree of interconnection as the Courier’s software promises to. Even Apple’s own built-in apps don’t have anywhere near as much potential for communication between and across each other.

In my opinion, where Apple got lazy with the iPad, Microsoft is throwing its entire mobile future behind the Courier. Not only that, but these previews are emphasizing the Courier’s strengths over the iPad without addressing things like media playback. The impression I get isn’t that the Courier is bad at those things, just that they’re taken as given. Instead, Redmond’s project is all about what a tablet can do that a media player can’t, something I’ve yet to really see illustrated by Apple regarding the iPad.

Related Research from GigaOM Pro:

  1. I must admit this thing does look fantastic. At a software standpoint it’s more impressive than the iPad. However seeing the video’s it does look as if its aimed at a slightly different market.

  2. I agree that the concept video looks impressive, but lets not get carried away here…. This is a demo animation not real software. I will be the first to welcome Microsoft into serious competition with Apple as this is what is needed to force Apple to continue to innovate but I have seen vapourware demos like this from Microsoft before so I am not holding my breath waiting for it to come to fruition !

  3. In response to the last paragraph in this article:

    With the iPad, Apple has made a platform for third party developers to create apps for. The Courier looks much more like a device to execute Microsoft’s visions of what a device like this should do.

    I would take the creative collective of thousands of development shops, over one.

  4. Anyone who thinks the Courier is going anywhere but the dustbin of history is smoking crack. Seriously.

    At best the functionality is “niche,” and it’s a *sub-set* of the iPad functionality. How is that going to work? Why would anyone buy or use one of these things when they could get an iPad, (which will likely be cheaper as well)?

    Because it opens like a book? Gimme a break.

    If the world was still the same as it was before the iPhone and Microsoft could lock users into the Windows hegemony with this, then maybe. The trouble is there’s a whole new platform and it connects to your desktop whether it’s Windows or Mac or Linux.

    The Courier is a 90’s era technology demo, dressed up to look like an iPad. It will likely never come to market, and if it does it will not catch on with anyone who isn’t a die-hard Windows fanatic.

    1. As a creative professional, I think the Courier looks fantastic. I want one. My wife, deep into Academia, wants one, too.

      If someone gave me an iPad for free, I would take it. If the Courier comes out (this year, as goes the rumor) and it looks like this, I will specifically get extra freelance work in order to pay for it.

      The Courier looks like it will do what I want a device to do. Simple.

      As for the iPad, it’s really a different thing, isn’t it? The iPad is meant for people who have at best casual computing needs, but it’s primarily a consumption device. The Courier looks like a creation device, and that’s MUCH more appealing to me.

      90’s era demo? Are you serious? I look at the demo and think that it feels futuristic in the way that the original iPhone did, which is NOT a feeling I got while looking at the iPad.

  5. it’s Microsoft … nuff said

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  7. But *it doesn’t even exist yet.* I don’t understand how anyone can make any judgments on the thing without using it or even seeing it in person, much less compare it to the iPad which we still don’t know fully well what it be like.

    Good lord, it’s like no one even remembers what “FUD” is anymore.

    1. Did you not notice the iPad hype, or how many words were written about that device before there was anything at all available to look at?

      At least here, while this isn’t official, is “leaked” internal work, which is based off something.

      Also, the rumors are that this is in the late prototype phase. (One of the pictures appears to be of an actual physical device, which requires it to exist, yes?) Supposedly it’s coming out in less than six months. That sounds like more than nonexistent to me.

      That said, yeah, don’t get crazy over it until it’s confirmed; the excellent interface could be overly toned down as it comes to market, which would be a shame. But *if* it comes out like this, it will be amazing.

  8. Even on an Microsoft demo video they have to visit an Apple page. See the second video at 2:03

    1. I do believe that was a joke against Apple.

      “Small Talk.”

  9. I hate to say it, but I might buy this…of courcec microsoft will do prob do somthing to screw it up by production and it will probably only work on pc’s…aaaand its made by microsoft…. but I can definatly see its usfulness from a educational and design perspective

  10. As said above, ‘it’s Microsoft … nuff said.” Unfortunately, I work as the administrator in an office that is Windows based with 90 originally hardware-to-Windows tuned machines. We are on a constant refresh schedule since on whatever platform Windows is deployed mobile, desktop, laptop, or other, it only takes about six months and regardless of maintenance and tweaking, the machines start to decay in performance until they reach terminal velocity. At home I have been Apple product based for the last decade. One old PPC G4 12″ iBook stills runs the same as it did out of the book.

    Perhaps, if Microsoft had absolute control of its hardware, maybe things would change. But, I doubt it will. Windows is cheap, universal, and has its aficionados. But ask those same happy buyers how they feel about the same machine in 6 to 9 months. The won’t answer since they will be out buying a new machine. I can’t see that the Courier will have the shelf life of a gnat in a blowtorch. A brand new side-by-side could demonstrate Courier initial “superiority”, but once the reknown decay sets in: Adios, Courier.


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