MS Courier

Not the font, the answer to the iPad.

It started life in the dungeons of Microsoft Research, where it spent its formative years looking something like this:

And has been been a loud rumour since MS released some research mockups last September (be sure to watch the video).

Then there was some more videos

and some more pictures.

still more pictures.

and then in typical MS fashion, nothing. Until today, when for some reason that I cannot possibly fathom, they leak full story to Engadget, along with what looks like an actual product shot.

While I see the iPad as little more than a large iPod Touch, this, if MS plays it right, could be a game changer.

Oh, and it’ll play music, apparently.

I have to say that I am taken aback to find myself more excited about a product from MS than Apple - I think the last MS product that excited me at all was the original Xbox - but for me, this has so much more potential than the iPad:

Although it’s not e-ink, that is pretty much exactly what I wanted from a reading platform. And it has a pen - perfect for taking notes, especially if the handwriting recognition is decent. Being an MS product, my hope is that it will support RTF, in which case it would be the perfect note-taking device for being out-and-about. I could import the RTF files into Scrivener on the Mac afterwards.

I’m really eager to see where this goes. The video mock-up was amazing - I loved the way you could place an object (e.g. an image) beneath the spine and then it would stay in place as you turned pages - but it remains to be seen whether they can pull off something as exciting in practise. But if it does turn out to be as good as the video, this is much more of a game-changer than iPad (unless it turns out to be £2,000 a pop of course).

All the best,

The display - no idea. A lot of folk are hoping for twin Pixel QI units which would allow switching between LCD colour and ePaper monochrome on the same display. They’re not saying for sure, but the company that makes them has been making noises about signing some pretty big deals. I’m going to be cautious though and say they’re a couple of standard LCDs.

The fancy graphics interacting with the hardware are pretty much what they’ve been doing with their Surface technology for the past couple of years.

But the only thing I’m really confident about is the handwriting recognition; if it’s anywhere near as good as Windows desktop then it’ll be pretty much unbeatable.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Courier for some time, and in fact early demos of it have impacted my vision for what would make a perfect tablet. I’m not entirely sold on the idea of having two facing screens, though it certainly does have some interesting applications in making multitasking an intuitive and natural process. There is one important advantage to two screens though, Keith points out it is bigger than the iPad—but not when closed! Having a folding design like this keeps screen size high while increasing not only the portability of scale but the portability of durability. When stowed, the fragile faces of the device are completely protected by the hardware sides. The iPad will require a neoprene case at the very least, while the Courier will require nothing, at most a very thin [faux] leather book-style case.

I almost stated my thoughts on this back when the iPad threads were flourishing, but since my thoughts on the Courier were all based on old prototype demos, it didn’t seem prudent to compare them with something that was being actively demoed as a physical product. Who knows what bad decisions Microsoft would make between demo and actual product—assuming it ever became a product at all. Now I find this next “leak” and it looks like, oddly enough, Microsoft is still on the right track. This is where tablets should be going in my opinion. Rayz brings up a good point regarding Surface technology. It’s a mistake to say that Apple has been pioneering the touch interface; Microsoft has been there for a long time now and throwing (very likely billions) lots of money into what these interfaces should look like—what we should be able to do with them. You can see traces of the Surface philosophy in some of the videos of it, where objects can be moved around freely and become contextually aware of each other depending upon spatial proximity.

Microsoft has a horrible track-record when it comes to designing interfaces, for the most part. They don’t know when to stop adding things to it and routinely miss hitting the elegance curve, but that said they are getting better, and Surface wasn’t a bad implementation, just out of reach for the average consumer by a long shot.

The thing that intrigue me is the precision of the pen-generated samples I’ve seen. My experience with digital pen technology has all be with Wacom (though not their display/surface tech) and it has never really had the precision I’d like to see—where one can draw at a 1:1 ratio, or even write at a comfortable size. The shots I’ve seen of the Courier all seem to imply that their tracking technology has a very high resolution. This is probably benefited by being able to write directly onto the display surface. Wacom has very good precision, but so long as you are writing/sketching in one spot and having the results appear several feet away, it’s going to feel weird and be difficult to write without resorting to huge, 24pt equivalent letters.

I have found myself feeling precisely what Keith has stated: first I can’t believe Microsoft is coming up with a portable tech that seemingly “gets it” while Apple is so “missing it”, and secondly that if it is anything like what I’ve seen so far, I want one!; especially if Missing*Synch or someone can get it talking to Macs, or it has a USB drive mode that would do just as well.

I think the key thing here is that this tablet isn’t trying to be a computer at all. It is trying to be a notebook. As a writer, and a creative in general, that’s what I’m looking for in a highly portable digital device like this: something to replace the hours and hundreds of dollars I spend on paper notebooks and transferring information from one paradigm to another.

But, Microsoft could still easily kill this by locking it down (i.e. pulling an Apple). If the files aren’t RTF, open image formats, and so on, then it hardly replaces what I already have. If I can’t plug it in and download or upload information to it from the desktop, then what is the point?

I’ve gone in the exactly the opposite direction. I first thought the Courier with the facing screens was the way to go and that the iPad concept missed the boat. Now I think that the iPad is the better product. Of course, this is all subject to change once I have one in my hands. I don’t want two small screens. I’d rather have one bigger one but that’s because I’ve been reading on my iPhone all week. It is doable but I would much rather have a single big screen.

As usual, they cannot do it better, so they do more of it…

I’ve been meaning to jump on these forums more often (I visit everyday). Here’s my quick input.

I really like the Courier, but…it’s not a final product yet. So I really need to hold off my thoughts until then.

We couldn’t make real judgements with the iPad until Jobs held it in his hands and played with it for us to see. We still don’t know what the iPad can do, but there was enough there for me.

As a creator in general, the Courier could be a game changer. I’ll wait and see.

On the other note, the iPad is also a game changer for me. I’m an avid sketcher and painter. I use the Brushes app on my iPhone. Being able to use (a souped up version) on the iPad is gold. I’m buying an iPad just for that functionality. I will also use it for research. The key with the iPad is that it will play nice with my MBP, where I get all my real work done.

As a Mac user, MS really needs to make the Courier play nicely with Apple machines. If they do that I’m sold. My guess is, based on the Zune, that MS doesn’t really care to make their products play with Macs. I can only hope and in the meantime, I’ll get an iPad and save more pennies for the Courier.

I don’t really think it’s a case of Apple getting it wrong, more like that the two companies have two separate aims. The iPad is designed mainly as a viewer for stuff bought from the Apple store. The Courier is more about content creation and (I suspect) selling the Cloud and Collaboration to consumers.

I won’t even hazard a guess at the storage format, but I’m going to tentatively suggest it’ll be similar to whatever they use for OneNote. I also think it’ll be programmed in a combination of .NET, Silverlight and XNA - like the new Windows Mobile 7 Series platform.

I also think the two screen format will be more acceptable as an eBook reader simply because it looks a lot like a book.


Too bad: According to Gizmodo Microsoft cancelled the Courier project. … et-project

What a pity.


What? Uncle Fester killed The Home Depot Pad? So sad :cry:

Classic business spoiling tactics by sinking costs, staking out territory and announcing that you’ve done so — but discontinued because the game appears to have failed?


Looks that way. Though I think part of the problem is that MS has a real fight on their hands and couldn’t afford to dilute resources. The big players have realised that the Apple model is the one that works: control the whole experience. I think this has more to do with HP killing that awful Slate abomination and going its own way with WebOS which they’re threatening to put on phones, slates and netbooks. So between, the iPhone, Android, HP/Palm and whatever else is out there, MS is looking at a shrinking market for WinPhone7 before it even ships. It’s going to take everything they have to get people to even notice it, without having to worry about selling a completely new concept alongside it.

Shame though, I still think handwriting recognition is a lot easier than bashing away on a tiny onscreen keyboard.

As Jobs said: ‘Real artists ship.’

MS might have gotten less scorn from me had they dropped the phone and kept the Courier. I might have even bought one just to see how it worked with linux.

You obviously have never seen my handwriting … not even I can recognise it these days :wink:

Mr X,

These days the tools are sometimes better for us “scratchers” than the human brain. I can’t remember the name of the one we have been using lately, but it “learns” (if you correct in program (not realtime, but using the built in editor)) each persons scratch. At this point I don’t even have to try to write legibly, it just works.

Which has not helped my handwriting at all.

I’m sure … but the problem is that my scratchings are so inconsistent, with added serious tremor, that I’d be having to do the corrections the whole time, so keyboard input more likely to be reliable and quicker for me, I’m sure … not that I can type at the sainted AmberV’s speeds, but I do at least use 8 fingers and 2 thumbs!


I figured out The Sainted One’s method. She has an USB 2.0 port allow direct input. That or she is back to instantiating new clones as needed.

I was really, really disappointed to hear that MS sank the Courier. In fact, I didn’t know about it until I happened upon this thread, but it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for after I tried my friend’s Ipad for ten minutes.

Frankly, I’m taking the Luddite view of the Ipad. I just can’t understand all the ongoing hype about the thing. Big, clumsy, heavy and thoroughly uncomfortable to hold on your lap. Glossy, headache producing screen. No pen. No USB connectivity. No camera for Skype. It’s just another flashy consumer gadget, an answer to pseudo problems. I’ll never, ever buy an Ipad, that’s for sure, but I would have coughed up immediately for a Courier.

I hope that someone picks up the idea and finally makes a useful handheld notebook/reader device.

Ipad, sheesh… :unamused: :wink:



Give Evernote a try. If I use it to search handwritten notes, it manages to find words that I can’t even recognise.