Why the Courier could be one of the most important gadgets Microsoft make

by Administrator | Apr 19, 2010

Microsoft have surprised many people recently with some fundamental changes to how they make operating systems for devices other than PCs. Windows 7 gave people a solid idea of what Microsoft expect to see from a PC but their other new operating system, Windows Phone 7, showed that they have taken a radically new approach for devices which are not PCs. Whereas in the past they would try to mimic a desktop-like experience in a smaller device Windows Phone 7 now shows their new ethos: tailoring the operating system to the form factor it is to be used in.

So, rather than mimicking the desktop layout with a small START button, Windows Phone 7 has been optimised to run only on mobile phones, making it a completely different experience to the one found on Windows desktop PCs.

The same can be said about the 'Courier' device which has been developed as a concept by Microsoft. The Courier has been mentioned in these articles before but, to recap, it uses an interface designed to mimic a paper journal, with the user able to scroll through virtual pages, as they would in a book, and write notes on the multitouch screen using the 'Courier pen' an included stylus. It is a truly unique and innovative interface but columnist Michael Gartenberg has gone on record to state that the Courier is an even more important device for Microsoft than was at first thought.

He highlights three key points and, for purposes of analysis, it is worth comparing the way the Courier works to the way the iPad, from Apple, works as both are tablet PCs but both work in very different ways.

First of all, while the Courier is capable of multitouch and dual capacitive touchscreens, it also uses an included stylus pen which gives the user a couple of key benefits. Firstly, it allows for handwriting recognition while simultaneously allowing the user to make handwritten notes on the device itself, a task which is not easy to do in a satisfying way using just a fingertip. The same is true of other features the Courier allows, such as onscreen painting and content creation. This contrasts strongly with the Apple iPad, as Apple believe that if a user ever has to use a stylus, they have failed to design a useful device.

Secondly, Gartenberg highlights the fact that the Courier signals a sea-change in Microsoft's thinking, citing it as an example of their ability to move beyond Windows, to create a user interface which is different to anything within their comfort zone, but which will open the door to future computing products which embrace new and innovative interfaces. Compare this to the iPad, which uses an interface almost identical to the iPhone, albeit on a larger screen.

Finally, Gartenberg states that the Courier highlights the fact that tablet PCs are not just for users to consume content but to create it as well. In fact, it appears to be optimised for doing exactly that and seems to be geared towards journalists, designers and researchers who would need to regularly take notes or actually create content. Compare this with the iPad, which is explicitly stated to be designed for users to consume content, hence the inclusion of features such as iBooks. The two devices seem to be aimed at very different people, however, with the Courier aimed at professionals, and the iPad aimed at consumers, so it may be that they won't compete directly.

Even in that case though, the Courier could still be a very important device for Microsoft, as it shows signs of their willingness to think outside of the box and not be constrained by the Windows ecosystem, instead crafting user experiences which are unique to a particular form factor of device. Thus, if they do ever make it, it could become one of the most important devices Microsoft have ever been involved with.

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