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Does Microsoft Get It?

An article a week, that’s the plan. I’ve already started my next two articles, so we’re well on our way. For this week a peek at the Courier.

So I just wrote an article about the iPad and looked at the closed system it’s built around. I discussed how it’s supposed to be the future of computing and I hinted at the fact that Steve Jobs wants one of these in every home, my thoughts on it were quite clear I think. I also mentioned that there are a lot of other closed systems. So it’s time to take a look (probably a premature look but what the hell) at Microsoft’s next tablet entry, the Courier, its closed system and how it’s different.

The Courier is not an iPad killer. Hell it’s not even designed to be a web tablet, although it does have a browser. Based on leaks here’s what we know about the Courier. For some video and pics click here.

  • The focus is on it being a journal
  • It does NOT run full blown windows, it’s based on the Windows CE 6 core like Pink (now the Kin)
  • Built in camera and headphone jack
  • Storage in the Cloud
  • Multi-touch
  • Pen interface for drawing and handwriting
  • Dual Screen
  • Easy sharing through the web
  • When closed not much larger than a 5×7 photo
  • E-Books

While the iPad focuses on the web, apps and games, the Courier is focused on letting you get your ideas on “paper”. This device is very different and has a very different focus than the iPad. The Courier is a whole new ball game.

Windows CE

The Courier is based on Windows CE, so I’m going to make a few assumptions. First of all, based on what we know about the Kin, I’m going to assume that the Courier is a closed system. That’s right, my guess is no apps on this bad boy. This isn’t a gaming machine, you want apps you’ll have to use web based games. The second assumption I’m going to make is that we’ll see a version with built in 3G. That’s probably a no brainer since it’s heavily Cloud focused from what we know. I’m also going to predict easy sharing between Kin, Courier, Windows Phone, and Windows 7.

OK, so I just wrote an article on the evils of Apples closed system on iPad and iPhone. So before I get to my thoughts on the Couriers closed system let me explain something. The entire purpose of the iPads interface is to make sure people do things Apples way. Apple decides on your work flow and how you create. They shun the pen interface but encourage you to draw. Well not all drawing is painting and there’s a whole set of people who are out of the creative loop because Apple doesn’t like the way they do business. As usually Apple is all about limiting your options. OK, no more iPad talk (probably).

The Courier is about enabling your creativity and allowing you to find your own work flow. It really is trying to create a better version of an old fashioned pen and paper journal. It’s got tools for drawing, writing, exploring the web, and it lets you pull it all together. It’s got options for painting, the pen can be used as a pen or a brush or whatever and so can your finger. Whatever works best for you. It’s even got multi-touch for helping you get around.

Now I still see some downsides to the closed system. If it’s really closed we won’t have a Kindle reader for the Courier, I probably wasn’t going to ditch e-ink for this anyway, but it’s a bit disappointing. We also won’t see dedicated versions of apps like Evernote, so there are downsides to every closed system. The point is the interface encourages creativity, which is an extremely important thing in my mind.

The Cloud

The Courier is cloud focused. Journals you create will be shared on the web via a blog like interface. This interface allows you not only to share the content with friends but it allows them to comment directly on the journal. It’s also designed for collaboration. I have no idea if it is real time (although that would be extremely cool) but still, it looks like a great tool for working together on a project. It would have made some of the projects Jeff and I have tackled together much easier.

I’m quite sure the Cloud on this isn’t just for storing journals. Much like the Kin I expect we’ll see Zune streaming on this device. Zune is about to become a big focus for Microsoft. It’s becoming the center of Microsoft’s multimedia strategy and it’s all about getting your content any time anywhere. So expect Zune Pass streaming like the Kin (and the new Windows Phones). Microsoft has embraced the cloud and streaming technologies. I think the Courier will really showcase that, as well as Microsoft’s ability to design touch interfaces.

Content

One interesting rumor is that Microsoft sees the Courier as its e-book platform. We all know I’m sold on e-ink as the best reading platform. But with the size of the Courier and the book like feel this could bring other people into the e-book fold. I just hope they open it up enough so we can get our Kindle and other e-book libraries on our Couriers. It’s a different kind of e-reader device to be certain and I’m curious as to what comes of the e-book aspect. It won’t be my e-book device of choice though.

The big question with content is storage. Nothing we’ve seen hints at how much internal storage this device will have. It’s quite likely that it will have solid state memory, I’m guessing 16 gig and 32 gig models. With what I believe to be the intention of storing journals in the cloud and streaming music, that should be plenty of local storage. The thing about the Courier is, it’s not primarily a content consumption device but a content creation device.

Creation not Consumption

The Courier is different from that other tablet because the Courier is primarily about creating new content not consuming other peoples content. It’s not just about creating from scratch with handwriting and drawing either. It’s about allowing you to grab inspiration from the web. The system is designed to make it easy to pull images, videos, text, and anything else you want from the web and store it in your journal. You can use these things for research, inspiration, collages, whatever you want. The Couriers design focuses on giving you the tools to create, to brainstorm, to innovate, and to share all of that.

The One?

I guess the question becomes is this the one? The defining moment where Microsoft steps up and figures out that the world has changed. That not everything should look like Windows. The moment when a device finally comes out that truly improves all aspects of the creative process and allows us to enjoy all that together? The moment when someone goes, “Wow, maybe Microsoft gets it.” Right now all we have is rumors and promotional leaks. We won’t know until someone gets it in their hands and even then it will take a couple of months to really get it run through its paces. So I’m hoping, but since all this is rumor, I’m not holding my breath.

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