Reports: Microsoft's 'Courier' tablet to compete with Apple

Video, images of dual-display, book-like device leak to Internet

Microsoft Corp. is working on a tablet-style computer that may be in the final stages of prototyping and could compete with Apple Inc.'s rumored device, according to multiple reports on the Internet.

The device, reports of which first turned up on Gizmodo, has been dubbed the "Courier" and resembles a book more than a traditional tablet computer, since it sports dual 7-in. screens that face each other when the system is opened. The device can be operated using either a stylus or multitouch gestures, and it has a camera embedded in its case.

Gizmodo posted a concept video demonstration of the Courier as well as several images -- but no photographs -- of the device on its site Tuesday.

According to Gizmodo, the Courier is in the "late prototype" stage and is being created by Pioneer Studios, a group within Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, which is responsible for the Xbox, the Zune and Windows Mobile. "Courier appears to be at a stage where Microsoft is developing the user experience and showing design concepts to outside agencies," said "The Paperboy," an anonymous writer for Gizmodo.

Others have confirmed the Gizmodo report. CNET's Ina Fried, for example, said sources told her the Courier is legitimate, although it's only one of several design prototypes being explored by a team led by longtime Microsoft executive J. Allard, the entertainment and devices group's chief technology officer.

"Very interesting idea," said Allan Krans, an analyst at Technology Business Research. "It combines a lot of technology that's been proven -- including the Kindle. And the touch interface of the iPhone seems to be there."

Krans noted that the Courier seems to blend several past and present Microsoft concepts, including pen-style computing, which the company tried to promote in the 1990s, and its much newer gesture-based tabletop offering, known as "Surface."

But the reason why something like the Courier makes sense -- unlike pen computing and this decade's lackluster Tablet PC concept -- is because of the company's rival.

"The iPhone really changed the way that people interacted with a device like this," said Krans today.

Apple has also been the subject of talk about tablets. The latest round of speculation about a possible Apple tablet came last week, after a Taiwanese publication cited industry sources who claimed that several component suppliers are building parts for an upcoming Apple tablet computer that will launch in February 2010.

Those sources said the Apple device would sport a 9.6-in. screen -- considerably less display real estate than the Courier's two 7-in. screens -- and will rely on a processor created by P.A. Semi, the Santa Clara, Calif., microprocessor design company that Apple purchased over a year ago.

"The Courier looks like a really nice way to do this form factor," said Krans. "It won't have the screen limitations of an iPhone, and it would be larger than Apple's rumored tablet."

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment about the Courier reports today, saying, "Microsoft makes it a practice not to comment on rumors and speculation."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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