Courier: First Details of Microsoft's Secret Tablet

It feels like the whole world is holding its breath for the Apple tablet. But maybe we've all been dreaming about the wrong device. This is Courier, Microsoft's astonishing take on the tablet.

Courier is a real device, and we've heard that it's in the "late prototype" stage of development. It's not a tablet, it's a booklet. The dual 7-inch (or so) screens are multitouch, and designed for writing, flicking and drawing with a stylus, in addition to fingers. They're connected by a hinge that holds a single iPhone-esque home button. Statuses, like wireless signal and battery life, are displayed along the rim of one of the screens. On the back cover is a camera, and it might charge through an inductive pad, like the Palm Touchstone charging dock for Pre.

Until recently, it was a skunkworks project deep inside Microsoft, only known to the few engineers and executives working on it—Microsoft's brightest, like Entertainment & Devices tech chief and user-experience wizard J. Allard, who's spearheading the project. Currently, Courier appears to be at a stage where Microsoft is developing the user experience and showing design concepts to outside agencies.

Microsoft has a history of collaborating with other firms, especially in the E&D division: Zune and Xbox have both gone through similar design processes. (And plans for the Microsoft Store leaked through a third-party agency were confirmed as genuine prototype layouts and concepts.) This video is branded Pioneer Studios, a Microsoft division within E&D that specialises in this kind of work, working with another agency that's a long-time Microsoft collaborator on confidential projects.

The Courier user experience presented here is almost the exact opposite of what everyone expects the Apple tablet to be, a kung fu eagle claw to Apple's tiger style. It's complex: Two screens, a mashup of a pen-dominated interface with several types of multitouch finger gestures, and multiple graphically complex themes, modes and applications. (Our favourite UI bit? The hinge doubles as a "pocket" to hold items you want move from one page to another.) Microsoft's tablet heritage is digital ink-oriented, and this interface, while unlike anything we've seen before, clearly draws from that, its work with the Surface touch computer and even the Zune HD.

Over the next couple days we'll be diving much, much deeper into Courier, so stay tuned.


Comments

    looks sweet, i'd buy it right now if it were available

      Absolutely... I think I'd even prefer this to the mythical tablet. I want a coffee table wifi book for surfing and doodling and my iPhone is just too small. This could be the goods.

      /Seconded
      Want right now.
      remember Inspector gadgets daughter Penny's book.
      There it is, release it with a sensible amount of RAM & VRAM for less than 2 grand and I would buy it today.

    I used to have a Toshiba tablet PC and I loved it. Coupled with MS OneNote it was the greatest work productivity tool I had ever used The only problem was it was big, heavy and piss poor battery life. In the end it became too much of a burden to take with me everywhere and I eventually reverted back to pen and paper. This looks like the device I have always wanted. If it's small and light with at least 8-10 hours of quality battery life, I will be all over this.

    I would buy one tomorrow if it was available!

    mee too. when will it be available?

    I would definitely buy such a product, it appeals directly to the hard-on-for-gadgets lobe of my brain.

    Definitely be up for that more so than just an enlarged iPod touch. This would be my sketchbook and day to day presentation, note taking device. Bye bye laptop.

    Wow! This thing excites me. I don't care if it's made by Microsoft, the idea of being able to open up a "book" and scribble on the pages just really appeals to me. When I look at it my brain starts screaming "DO WANT". One thing's for sure, it'll be great for note-taking during lectures, or scribbling down reminders, or doodling quick sketches when you have one of those million-dollar ideas. Not to mention it appears to be internet-enabled, and has a camera, etc etc...

    Okay, I'm sold!

    How am I going to get it past my wife now :P

    Still think a tablet would make a great "house" control, but I really like the look of this thing...!

    Microsoft has been doing tablet PC's for Years now. why all the excitement over apples offering?
    Have a look at the HP TC1000 it's a tablet running Win XP tablet edition. you can get a Tablet running Vista form HP as well.

    What's so special about Apple doing one?

    I'd grab one of these things right now if available!

    Like others here I've been using a convertible notebook/tablet for years at work and home and have found the form factor in combination with One-Note near perfect as a diary et al. It just needs to be a bit lighter.

    I just wonder if the screens are large enough. It seems to be too big for a pocket but maybe too small for some work related tasks.

    maybe it's just me but how to they know it's a real device? From what I can tell these look like concept renders but not an actual functioning device.

    No offence but Microsoft doesn't really have a very good track record when it comes to delivering desirable gadgets such as this. As a matter of fact I can't think of one.

    Don't get me wrong. I really would love a tablet device such as this (or what ever Apple is supposed be brewing)... I just can't see it coming from Microsoft.

    Yes, Do it... Now!!
    I am so sick of Apple tablet rumours. If Microsoft do this, and do it right, I would get one in a second.
    Regardless of the difference in target audience, its encouraging to see there's some good competition heating up around the elusive multi-touch tablet.
    It will be interesting to see who gets there first in the end.

    Any more news of this? I am seriously looking at this, it looks amazing!

    Oh great, another M$ product....how long before it gets the BSOD?! No thanks, I'd rather invest in a product that isn't designed to fail.

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