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Microsoft courier: too much of a paper logic

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After watching the preview of Microsoft’s Courier below, some thoughts came to my mind. First of all, isn’t its interface just a bunch of paper good replicas? Roll-o-decks, notebooks, a little black book with your poems in, OCR for everything you need to input, cut & paste like paper pieces… I personally hate it. Are they going to integrate a pencil sharpener into the GUI too? Bluetooth-scissors with accelerometers to cut some picture in the air? WiFi-Plasticine to connect to your Courier and model 3D-objects?

I really like the gesture-based GUI. I am an early adopter of mouse gestures. I even owned a multitouch pad which I bought from Thinkgeek.com. What I can’t stand from the Courier interface is this abusive analogy to paper stuff, e.g. to a spiral notebook. A deep in analysis of the gesture interface can be found here. Let’s summarize what’s been said about this product; will this product launch follow the classical Microsoft “over-promise, then under-deliver” product philosophy? You bet… promise the moon and deliver a meteorite.

The new Courier in a few bullets:

  • sophisticated and intuitive e-Journal
  • much smaller than previously thought
  • under 1 inch thick
  • weighing in a little over one pound
  • not much bigger than a 5 x 7 photo when closed
  • “Infinite Journal” and “Page Stream”
  • necessity of the Courier Pen
  • centered around hand-writing recognition
  • based on WP7

Apparently, the device will be developed on CE6, the next major release of the Windows Mobile operating system, as well as the Windows Phone 7 Series, which seems to be Microsoft’s new universal panacea to be used on everything. The big question is: will this gadget in any way interact or sync with Windows Phone 7? The Microsoft Courier can best be described as a “digital journal”. The interface will be primarily touch/pen-based with some sophisticated handwriting recognition running in background. This interface is in turn is an evolution of the ultra-slick Zune HD OS. In keeping with the new Windows Phone 7 emphasis on integration and sharing, the Courier has many ways to share and collaborate your journal elements with colleagues.

Courier places an emphasis on mobility: it is split into two screens that can fold in to create an ultraportable device akin to a notebook. Other key elements to the Courier include a built-in camera, a 3.5mm mini-jack for media playback, ebook reader, contact address book and web browser. The device should be powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra 250. Despite the second touchscreen, it would be lighter than an iPad and weigh just over one pound, and would still be under one inch thick; the footprint would be that of a 13 cm x 18 cm photo when shut.

The use of a dual-core ARM-based chip would lead the tablet to instead use the same foundation as Windows Phone 7, Zune HD and Project Pink. The OS would be optimized primarily for note taking and would include handwriting support, although the new details show the previously only hinted at e-reader layer. E-books would play a key role and would include a “dedicated ecosystem,” implying an online bookstore much like the iBookstore. Apps are also mentioned in one screen and suggest a Courier marketplace for new features.

Two screens: does this mean half the battery run time or twice the battery weight? HP’s slate is much heavier than the amazon kindle just due to the e-ink versus a backlit screen. This has backlit times 2. Courier is a real device, and it is said to be 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-like home button. Statuses, like wireless signal and battery life, are displayed along the rim of one of the screens. On the back cover there is a camera, and it might charge through an inductive pad, like the Palm Touchstone charging dock for Pre.

The Courier user experience presented here is almost the exact opposite of what everyone expects. 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. The hinge doubles as a “pocket” to hold items you want move from one page to another, a rework of the more abstract clipboard. Microsoft’s notbooklet is digital ink-oriented, and its interface clearly emulates that. Did I say that I hate this paper-world emulation?

In the mockup video, data files are organized via a “Library” interface browser. When you open up the Courier, a favorites tray sits on the left hand screen for saving oft used files and quickly accessing them. There’s even a digital version of the old, analog school library card file for quickly flipping through files and their histories, Roll-o-deck style. The “Browser” allows for the clipping and saving of content, saving them to the Courier’s “Journal” application for further use. Meanwhile, the “Agenda” application fills calendar functions, but with a twist: while you can use it to track appointments, you can also taking notes and sketches, storing them by date and subject. Finally, the “Collaborate” function is a project sharing application which will be used in conjunction with the wireless connection, so multiple Courier users can work on the same data simultaneously.

Additional functionality of the software suite is still vague, but there is another development in the hardware: the Courier includes a digital stylus that has both two programmable buttons and a digital eraser, with the activation of an artistic drawing mode accomplished with the flick of the wrist.

If Microsoft can produce this device so that it looks as good as the pictures we have seen AND if the User Interface has the functionality detailed in those concept videos, then the Courier is going to be truly remarkable. I am not convinced that this device will be all that the videos and pictures promise. It just seems too good to be true. But if it is then I think we could see a massive shift in power in the mobile market place. Microsoft could really be making a rather incredible device that people simply must have.

Too good to be true?

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