Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Will Microsoft Beat Apple Out of the Gate With a New Tablet?

If nothing else, they may steal some of Apple's thunder (and potential market share). Introducing the Microsoft Courier:

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...

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 favorite 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.

I agree with the folks at Gizmodo -- this design is intriguing, but it reeks of complexity. Follow the link and watch the video to see what I mean. It looks cool, but it seems to fail on precisely the areas that Apple succeeds -- simplicity, elegance, and intuitiveness. The one thing Apple nailed with the iPhone is the user interface. Hopefully, Microsoft will have a few surprises with the interface with the Courier.

While I can see some merit to a dual display device like this, what I think the majority of consumers would want is something more akin to a 10-inch iPod Touch. I simply love my iPhone and would delight in a similar device with a larger screen.

What I like about the Courier:

  • Digital Ink. My tablet PC can recognize my handwriting and convert it into digital text. Very handy for searching through handwritten notes and for entering data without a keyboard. (It's much faster than typing on the iPhone's keyboard.) This is much easier to implement with a stylus than with a finger.
  • Dual Displays. If the device is capable of multitasking, this could be particularly useful. The video shows a good demonstration of how you can interact between the two screens. If Microsoft (or other developers) takes full advantage of this, there could be some creative applications that shine in what they do.

What I don't like:

  • Folding Design. Microsoft's design looks like it may be awkward to hold in one hand for extended periods of time. It also looks like it would be more prone to breakage than a more unified slate.
  • Dual Displays. This is both a pro and a con. Having two displays means the device is twice the size/thickness it might have been and needs more power than a single display device. On the other hand, two seven-inch displays may not take much more power than a single ten-inch and fold down to a smaller size. Then again, you could simply have a 10-inch screen that digitally divides itself in half by displaying two programs side by side.
What I hope for:
  • USB Port(s).
  • SD Card Slot.
  • Bluetooth. Including the ability to link to a wireless mouse and keyboard. (C'mon Apple! Give us keyboard drivers for the iPhone!)
  • Open Architecture. No need to jailbreak the device or go through a burdensome approval process in the App Store.
  • Lots of Storage. (Minimum 32 GB.) And the ability to connect this to a computer and use it as flash memory. (C'mon Apple! Give us this on the iPhone! You let me do it with my iPod.)
  • Low Cost. Somewhere around the price range of a netbook. Say $300-$500.

If Microsoft is smart (and this design is real), then they will copy something like Apple's App Store. Part of the fun of owning the iPhone is constantly discovering new uses for it by adding very inexpensive software. The iPhone is also remarkably responsive, making it a delight to use. A tablet by either Microsoft or Apple that lacks simplicity, speed, reasonable battery life, and a plethora of fun and/or useful applications is destined to be a niche product. The iPhone has set a new standard of consumer expectations for technology. Let's hope both companies deliver.

Follow the link to see a video and more photos of this intriguing device.

(HT Unplggd)

1 comment:

Ali Hasanain said...

Wow, this is brilliant. Imagine using one of these as a planner. If it is light enough, it'd complement a larger laptop.

Personally, I love the folding design and dual-monitors. The thing I wish they'd do though, is use at least 9 inch screens, so this could be a strong alternative to a netbook.

Imagine rotating this thing into a laptop orientation, and it automatically putting a virtual keyboard and trackpad on the lower screen, and using the upper screen as a monitor. That way you could use it as a conventional netbook when you wanted, and then simply reorient it to use as a journal or whatever at other times.