Gizmodo is reporting on what it says is Microsoft’s prototype for a new sort of tablet computer–one with dual screens bound up like a book, and an interface that involves both multi-touch (like an iPhone) and a stylus (like a Tablet PC). It’s supposedly code-named Courier, and Gizmodo has a video walkthrough–which is done in animation, so this could be a concept rather than a product that’ll ever be available for sale. Here’s a still image:
Nobody’s going to look at Gizmodo’s video and come away saying “Gee, that looks like a boring, me-too product.” I do remain skeptical about products based on the notion that people want to use styluses to input handwritten text that won’t be converted into accurate, editable ASCII into a computing device. That was the notion behind the Tablet PCs which Microsoft unveiled with absurd pomp and circumstance back in 2001–the company said that most notebooks would be tablets within a few years. I thought that tablets were unsatisfactory technology in search of real-world problems back in 2001, and wasn’t the least bit surprised when they didn’t go much of anywhere.
I was, however, kind of startled that Microsoft seemed to give up on tablets rather quickly–other than some modest software updates, it never did much to improve the idea. If Courier’s the real deal, maybe it hadn’t given up so much as skulked away and decided to quietly work on the idea when technology had progressed a bit.
But Courier, if it ever appears in a form that comes close to Giz’s video, may still suffer from Newton’s Conundrum: Really good handwriting recognition still doesn’t exist, and it’s impossible to convince consumers that they don’t really want it. If Apple’s tablet exists and has a chance of finding a large audience, I’m guessing it’ll sidestep the issue by doing very little that involves textual input at all.
Note also the unwieldy way that the hand in the above image is doing two-finger multi-touch while keeping a stylus tucked under the forefinger. On the other hand, Courier would presumably run some form of Windows, and it’s nice to see that in the demo, at least, it’s Windows with an all-new user interface designed for the device at hand. Microsoft may argue differently, but I think the familiar interface elements in both Tablet PC and Windows Mobile were a mistake, since they were familiar elements originally designed for desktop PCs you drove with a keyboard and mouse…