Microsoft Courier Heats up Tablet Sector

Late Tuesday night the tech world's entire concept of what cool should be wa

microsoft courier tablet
Courier (from Gizmodo)
s upended when Microsoft's tablet project, codenamed Courier, came to light. If you haven't heard about this yet, Gizmodo released an exclusive report showing off a double-screen tablet device that functions like a day planner -- but a really cool day planner.

It's not clear whether Courier will ever hit store shelves, as the device is just one of many tablet prototypes that Microsoft is developing, according to a CNET report. Nevertheless, with rumors swirling about an Apple tablet, and Courier's similarity to Asus' upcoming E-reader/netbook, it looks like the tablet concept could turn out be popular after all. Funny thing is, there might just be room for everybody's idea.

Microsoft's Courier

As described by Gizmodo, Courier looks like it could revolutionize personal business devices. Details are scarce about what the Courier can do, but so far we know it comes in the shape of book with two, 7-inch screens (presumably in color), built-in camera on the back, and Wi-Fi. Courier embraces a vast array of user inputs including multitouch gestures like pinching and flicking as well as a stylus for handwriting and drawing.

We've got no details on how Courier would handle tasks like e-mail or if it has a microphone or Webcam for VoIP and videoconferencing, but the Courier concept does look like an excellent digital replacement for the traditional paper planner. Unlike other digital planners like PDAs from Palm and Research in Motion, Courier appears to merge the best of the paper planner -- two pages and large writing spaces -- with a computer's capability to manipulate and index data.

The Mythical Apple Tablet

As Gizmodo points out, Courier is "almost the exact opposite of what everyone expects the Apple tablet to be." Apple's tablet is assumed to be an expanded iPod Touch with a 9- or 10-inch multitouch display, iSight camera, microphone, Wi-Fi, and 3G capability, and run either the iPod OS or some other version of Mac OS X.

Even though analysts and pundits have been talking about the Apple Tablet for just over a year now, we've never seen a Courier-sized leak to figure out what the device will actually be like. All the details above are based on rumor and hearsay, with only a few blurry photos to back it up. So it's possible Apple's device may not even exist, but now that Microsoft's hand is tipped, Apple may get into the tablet race anyway.

Courier vs Apple Tablet

Assuming that both devices are real and coming to store shelves soon, you couldn't dream up a better example of the stereotypes found in Apple's Get A Mac ads. On the one hand, you have the business-oriented device that looks like it was born to display spreadsheets and pie charts. Then you have Apple's tablet, a sleek, cool-looking device that will help you start your own rock band and create a cinematic masterpiece within minutes.

apple tablet
Apple's idea of a tablet?
The problem with the Apple tablet may be this: Why is a consumer device like this even necessary? Why is this a better option than a laptop/smartphone combo? The tablet doesn't look like it can replace either device, and it appears the Apple tablet wouldn't really be a netbook either. So what is it? Presumably, it's an entertainment device for watching video, surfing the Web, and playing games.

Courier, on the other hand, is immediately recognizable as a useful device. It brings the two-page paper day planner into the digital world for the first time. Courier takes advantage of data mash-ups by flicking your contacts onto a map to find a location; you can take notes on a reasonable-sized screen; and you also get Web access. Courier also appears to have nothing to do with Windows Mobile or Windows 7, but runs a new operating system specifically designed for this device.

This doesn't mean, however, that Apple's tablet device can't catch on or that Courier will dominate the market -- just that Courier and the Apple tablet are for two different customer types. Courier is for those who want a smartly designed day planner that will probably be able to do other things like play videos and run other entertainment applications, just like a smartphone can. Apple's device is geared toward fun and will likely be very weak as an enterprise device. So the question is, which one do you want? The PC or Mac tablet concept?

Check out Courier's demo video:


Connect with Ian Paul via Twitter (@ianpaul).

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