Microsoft Courier: Hardware or Vaporware?

Remember “Courier,” the cool Microsoft dual-screen concept tablet which Gizmodo uncovered last September? It’s back. This time, it’s Engadget that’s published Courier imagery, including a photo and new screens and videos.

Until now, there’s been no evidence that Courier was anything more than a slick idea that might or might not ever turn into a product–sort of like Apple’s Knowledge Navigator from 1987. But Engadget’s source talked about details that, if true, mean that Courier is indeed in the works. It’s supposedly based on Nvidia’s Tegra 2 processor and will show up in the third or fourth quarter of this year.

If so, neat–but for now, Courier doesn’t feel very tangible. The videos are animations that look like they were done in Flash; the screens don’t look real; even the photograph might be a mockup of some sort. Until Microsoft says something or more solid materials leak out, it’s tough to know what to think.

I’m a fan of genuinely new ideas in user interfaces, and Courier is full of them. I’m intrigued, however, by the fact that the whole idea seems to center around the idea that folks want to create handwritten digital notes. That was also the theory behind the Tablet PC, a product which Microsoft thought would come to dominate the notebook market–but which never really took off.

I remain skeptical about there being a critical mass of people who want to take notes with a stylus and then look at their own handwriting forever after. Of course Courier, in concept form, looks to be about a hundred times more elegant than the Tablet PC, so maybe it could be the breakthrough that the Tablet turned out not to be. I hope we get the chance to find out…

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