Reports: Microsoft's 'Courier' tablet to compete with Apple

Video, images of dual-display, book-like device leak to Internet

Microsoft is working on a tablet-style computer that could compete with Apple's rumored device, and may be in the final stages of prototyping, according to multiple reports on the Internet yesterday.

The device, which Gizmodo first reported on, has been dubbed the "Courier" and resembles a book more than a traditional tablet, as it sports dual 7-inch screens that face each other when the system is opened. Other features include the ability to use either a stylus or multi-touch gestures to operate the Courier, as well as a camera embedded in the device's case.

Gizmodo posted a concept video demonstration of the Courier as well as several images -- although not photographs -- of the device on its site Tuesday.

According to Gizmodo, the Courier is in the "late prototype" stage, and is being created by Pioneer Studios, a group within Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices division, which is also responsible for the Xbox, Zune and Windows Mobile. "Courier appears to be at a stage where Microsoft is developing the user experience and showing design concepts to outside agencies," said "The Paperboy," an anonymous writer for Gizmodo.

Others have confirmed the Gizmodo account. CNET's Ina Fried , for example, said sources told her the Courier is legitimate, although it's only one of several design prototypes being explored by a team led by long-time Microsoft executive J. Allard, the Entertainment & Devices group's chief technology officer.

"Very interesting idea," said Allan Krans, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "It combines a lot of technology that's been proven, including the Kindle, and the touch interface of the iPhone seems to be there."

Krans noted that the Courier seems to blend several past and present Microsoft technologies, including its attempts at promoting pen-style computing in the 1990s and its much newer gesture-based, tabletop "Surface."

But the reason why something like the Courier makes sense now -- as opposed to the aborted efforts by Microsoft to back pen computing, and this decade's lackluster Tablet PC concept -- is because of the company's rival.

"The iPhone really changed the way that people interacted with a device like this," said Krans today.

Apple has also been the target of talk about tablets. The latest round of speculation about Apple's entry came last week, after a Taiwanese publication cited industry sources who claimed that several component suppliers are building parts for an upcoming Apple tablet computer , which will launch in February 2010.

Those sources said the Apple device would sport a 9.6-in. screen -- considerably less display real estate than the Courier's two 7-in. screens -- and will rely on a processor created by P.A. Semi, the Santa Clara, Calif. microprocessor design company that Apple purchased over a year ago .

"The Courier looks like a really nice way to do this form factor," said Krans. "It won't have the screen limitations of an iPhone, and would be larger than Apple's rumored tablet."

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to react today to the Courier reports, saying, "Microsoft makes it a practice not to comment on rumors and speculation."

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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