Courier, Concept or Product?

Todd is excited to get the iPad, and I am on the fence wondering whether there are more shiny objects on the horizon. I know that unlike when Apple launched the iPhone, there will be several other companies close on Apple’s heels with tablet computers of their own. The Microsoft Courier concept tablet computer shown by Engadget is closer to what I want in a tablet, a pen centric device.

From what I have seen about Courier on the Internet to date, I think the right way to refer to it is as a concept, akin to the concept cars that you see at auto shows. As is the case with concept cars, technology concepts like the Courier may or may not make it into a product, either entirely as shown or in slightly different ways. The point is to marvel at the technology, but to not necessarily get your hopes up that it will ever be a product. So, it is in the context of technology concept that I want to discuss Courier.

The Apple iPad product and the Microsoft Courier concept present two different ideas about tablet computing. The iPad follows a media player metaphor, and it is essentially a large screen iPod Touch. (Perhaps in the future the iPod Touch will be renamed the iPad Mini.) Apple expects people to use the iPad to consume information, either by reading eBooks, browsing the web, watching videos, or listening to music. While you can create information with it, that is not its primary purpose.

To me the metaphor the Courier is following is a spiral-bound notebook. You could say Courier is a consumer product version of OneNote. Microsoft expects people to use Courier to create information. Unlike with a computer metaphor where you create information with a keyboard, Courier is more “old-school” with creating information using “ink” and “paper.” Microsoft has been promoting the idea of pen-based tablet computing for many years, but Courier has two key differences. One is that the product is physically closer to the spiral-bound notebook metaphor it is following rather than the computer metaphor that Tablet PCs are stuck in. The other key difference is that it combines touch and pen input, again just like you interact with a spiral-bound notebook, rather than using just the pen and keyboard of the Tablet PC.

Ever since I first started using a PDA, I used my PDAs to create information. As I go about my day there is all sorts of information that I want to remember and take action on. Before I even heard of Getting Things Done I instinctively knew the concept of getting things out of my brain and into a trusted repository. When I started using PDAs my peers were writing things in their Franklin Planners, which had a process built around it for reviewing and moving information from one day to the next. A big difference between doing this in a PDA or Franklin Planner is finding information days, weeks, or months after the fact. The safety net of putting information in a trusted repository is only as good as your ability to get information out of it. James Kendrick recently had an experience that he wrote about where he was able to retrieve information that he wrote, by hand, many years ago. His experience is exactly what I am seeking in a tablet computer.

As I watched the videos of the Courier concept at Engadget, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had seen the concept before. It dawned on me what I was recalling, and I think it’s best shown to you in video. (Hint: I like irony)