Microsoft Does Tablets. Yes, Again

By  |  Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 6:02 pm

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…



10 Comments For This Post

  1. jinishans Says:

    Hope they release it within next 1yr, no 6mths, no 3mths. Ya, before someone comes up with something similar/better than this.

    Also, I hope M$ doesnt price is at 10k, like they did for surface.

    BTW, they should allow us to develop Apps in .NET and allow us to share it with others like Android does, not block us like they did for Zune HD.

    If all the above 3 are followed, it’ll really be a device for socialnetworking, otherwise, may make noise like ZuneHD, and have our fingers crossed when they’ll release the App Store.

  2. Sergeys Mom Says:

    clearly you don’t know what you are talking about when it comes to handwriting recognition and TabletPC – Vista was great – Windows 7 is even better – no training – terriffic recognition – great UI. My only caveat is that I have only used it in English.

  3. tom b Says:

    Does it come with Mr. Clippy?

  4. Daniel Says:


    I don’t go around saying that MS is a me too company but it is. You’ve seen this way too often from Microsoft. When Microsoft is behind and they need to slow the buzz of another company’s possible future product, Microsoft will leak, create a buzz, talk about how their X project will be released soon. A lot of propaganda, but in the end, it’s just fanciful talk.

    One that comes to mind is the previous tablet. Again a lot of talk, but nothing. Where Vista should have further advance the tablet, again nothing.

    Microsoft is lost and without a strong leader it will continue to do the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), which is to oversell and underwhelm.

  5. Harry McCracken Says:

    @Sergeys Mom: I acknowledge that some folks love Tablet PCs and have good experience with the handwriting recognition. But I not only have used numerous tablets, but bought one with my own dough–and I had extremely poor luck with the recognition and multiple quibbles with the user interface. I kinda think that tablets would have sold a LOT better if they’d nailed the technology and the interface for most people…


  6. Harry McCracken Says:

    @Daniel Oh, I agree about Microsoft me tooism–but I think “Courier” is a cool concept. Of course, it’s 100X easier to come up with cool concepts than cool products…


  7. Mark Sigal Says:

    First off, this is a really cool looking prototype. Second, I would hearken to what others raise; namely, when will the real product ship and what’s the OS and tools side of the equation, as Apple has pretty much shown this to be the bar for success.

    Clearly, Apple learned this lesson from Microsoft (in PC 1.0) but MS feels long removed from those days (i.e., cultivating and growing a software centered ecosystem), especially in light of all of the legacy that they have to support.

    Btw, here are some thoughts on where Apple’s Tablet and the e-Book is headed:

    Rebooting the Book (One Apple iPad Tablet at a Time):

    Check it out if interested.


  8. Ike Says:

    The handwriting recognition on my Windows Mobile phone is amazing — I don’t know why anyone would bash it.

  9. Erik Says:

    Lots of spiffy, groundbreaking stuff coming out of Microsoft these days.

    It’s a shame consumers never get to use it, because it stays buried in labs.

    Spin out a division, call it Betaworx and buy the domain name from the squatter who holds it. Start rolling out products that are designed to kill off existing Microsoft product families. Take chances. If you’re going to fail, fail from pushing the envelope too hard, not from being too timid.

  10. Mark Sigal Says:

    @Erik, I think that you hit the nail on the head wrt what I perceive to be wrong with Microsoft. There is plenty of cool stuff coming out of the Microsoft R&D, but there seems to be an unwritten credo that for it to make it into a “product,” it can not be disruptive to Microsoft’s bread and butter.

    That would be fine if Microsoft had a culture of cannibalizing itself but instead they have become the pack rat that just keeps hanging onto the old baggage while adding new baggage, and that is a recipe for entropy.

    If you lack the culture to cannibalize yourself, you are better off following your suggestion, and using the market as a forcing function, maybe with Microsoft having some right of first offer to bring the product or business unit in house if/when it becomes successful.

    Otherwise, you start to look like GM. Lots of cool concept cars but the real cars…not so much.


    Read: Comparing Microsoft to the Collapse of Communism (

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