Microsoft has killed its long-rumored “Courier” tablet PC project, eliminating a possible rival to Apple’s iPad. Although it never managed to exit the development lab, early photo and video leaks on tech blogs suggested the Courier-at least as a prototype-featured two touch screens that folded on a central hinge, like a book, and was capable of letting users write notes or draw longhand.
“At any given time, across any of our business groups, there are new ideas being investigated, tested and incubated. It’s in Microsoft’s DNA to continually develop and incubate new technologies to foster productivity and creativity,” Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of communications, wrote in a statement widely circulated to media. “The Courier project is an example of this type of effort and its technologies will be evaluated for use in future Microsoft offerings.”
That represents something of an about-face for Microsoft, which for months would only respond to eWEEK’s queries into the Courier project with a curt: “Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculative news stories.”
And what rumors. Tech blog Gizmodo reported in September 2009 that Microsoft was fairly far along in the project, having developed a workable user experience and begun showing off the concept to outside agencies. “The dual 7-inch (or so) screens are multitouch, and designed for writing, flicking and drawing with a stylus, in addition to fingers,” read its Sept. 22 posting. “On the back cover is a camera, and it might charge through an inductive pad, like the Palm Touchstone charging dock for Pre.”
Even at the beginning of March, the project still seemed to be gathering steam, at least according to the blogs that continued to post video and images of Courier in action. On March 5, Engadget offered a rumor roundup that suggested the device wasn’t “much bigger than a 5×7 photo when closed” and ran “the same OS as the Zune HD, Pink, and Windows Mobile 7 series, which we’re taking to mean Windows CE 6.” That posting suggested a release date sometime in the second half of 2010.
There’s no telling, though, how outside events might have steered Microsoft’s decision to kill the project. Its largest ostensible competitor, Apple’s iPad, proved to be a solid short-term success following its April 3 release, reportedly shipping some 500,000 units during its first week. During an April 8 news conference at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, CEO Steve Jobs announced that some 600,000 iBooks and 3.5 million applications had been downloaded by iPad owners, a number that has surely increased in subsequent weeks.
Other tablet PCs running a Microsoft operating system are reportedly in the works. The most prominent of these, the Hewlett-Packard “slate,” was first unveiled by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during a keynote presentation at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas; in recent months, HP executives had been posting on the company’s Voodoo blog how the device’s camera modules, Windows 7 operating system, and ability to run Adobe Flash put it in contention as a strong iPad competitor. Rumors began circulating on April 29, however, that HP had decided to kill the project.