Why Microsoft killed the Courier [Nov 1, 2011]
… At one point during that meeting in early 2010 at Gates’ waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash., Gates asked Allard how users get e-mail. Allard, Microsoft’s executive hipster charged with keeping tabs on computing trends, told Gates his team wasn’t trying to build another e-mail experience. … Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting. … The key to Courier, Allard’s team argued, was its focus on content creation. Courier was for the creative set, a gadget on which architects might begin to sketch building plans, or writers might begin to draft documents.
“This is where Bill had an allergic reaction,” said one Courier worker … He conveyed his opinions to Ballmer, who was gathering data from others at the company as well. Within a few weeks, Courier was cancelled because the product didn’t clearly align with the company’s Windows and Office franchises, according to sources.
While the internal fight over Courier occurred about 18 months ago, the implications of the decision to kill the incubation project reverberate today. Rather than creating a touch computing device that might well have launched within a few months of Apple’s iPad, which debuted in April 2010, Microsoft management chose a strategy that’s forcing it to come from behind. The company cancelled Courier within a few weeks of the iPad’s launch. Now it plans to rely on Windows 8, the operating system that will likely debut at the end of next year, to run tablets.
… using Windows as the operating system for tablets also implies that Microsoft will update the devices’ operating systems on the Windows time frame, typically every three years. Compare that to Apple, which seems likely to continue to update the iPad annually, a tactic that drives a raft of new sales each time a new generation hits the market. By the time Windows 8 rolls out, Apple will likely have introduced its iPad 3. Moreover, Amazon’s much anticipated Kindle Fire tablet, which goes on sale November 15, will have nearly a year head start on the Windows-powered tablet offerings.
On the other hand, Courier, with its modified version of Windows, could have been updated more frequently than the behemoth operating system itself.
Early on, the group opted to use Windows for Courier’s operating system. But it wasn’t a version of Windows that any consumer would recognize. The Courier team tweaked the operating system to make sure it could perform at high levels with touch- and pen-based computing. What’s more, the graphical shell of Windows–the interface that computer users associate with the operating system–was entirely removed. So while it was Windows under the hood, the home screens bore zero resemblance to the familiar PC desktop.
Designers working on Courier came up with clever notions for how digital paper should work. One of the ideas was to create “smart ink,” giving text, for example, mathematical properties. So when a user wrote “5+8=” on, say, digital graph paper, the number “13” would fill in the equation automatically. Additionally, if users selected lined digital paper, words would snap to each line as they were jotted down.
The phrase at the core of the Courier mission was “Free Create.” It was meant to describe the notion of eliminating the processes and protocols that productivity software often imposes on workers.
“Free Create is a simple statement that acts as a rallying cry, uniting the consumer’s core need and Courier’s core benefit,” reads a passage in an internal Microsoft book memorializing the Courier effort, reviewed by CNET, that was given to the team after the project was shuttered. “Free Create is a natural way to digitally write, sketch and gather inspiration by blending the familiarity of the pen, the intuition of touch, the simplicity of the book and the advantages of software and services.”
When Courier died, there was not a single prototype that contained all of the attributes of the vision: the industrial design, the screen performance, the software experience, the correct weight, and the battery life. Those existed individually, created in parallel to keep the development process moving quickly. Those prototypes wouldn’t have come together into a single unit until very late in the development process, perhaps weeks before manufacturing, which is common for cutting-edge consumer electronics design. But on the team, there was little doubt that they were moving quickly toward that final prototype.
“We were on the cusp of something really big,” said one Courier team member.
In late 2009, before the iPad had launched, the Courier team recognized the market for tablets was ready to explode. It laid out a detailed engineering schedule and made the case to Microsoft’s top brass that Courier could be a revolutionary device that would define a new product category. The team put forward a vision that Microsoft could create a new market rather than chasing down a leader or defending an established product.
“J (was) incubating with his tribe, very much thinking consumer and very much thinking the next few years,” a former Microsoft executive said. “He was trying to disrupt Microsoft, which hasn’t been good at consumer products.”
In fact, one of the mandates of Alchemie was to look only at product ideas and business concepts that were no farther than three years into the future. The Alchemie book includes something of an innovation process road map that lays out four “gates” that ideas needed to pass through to move from incubation to product development. And a source said that Courier had made it through all four gates.
So why did Courier die? The answer lies in an understanding of Microsoft’s history and culture.
Microsoft “Courier” secret tablet [Sept 22, 2009]
Special: Interview with Microsoft NUI/UX Designer Ron George [Nov 25, 2009]
The futuristic videos you see may or may not come from MSFT. It all depends. Sometimes MSFT gives challenges to outside vendors to think up something crazy and those are usually the videos that somehow get, “leaked” online. The true MSFT videos that are created internally, at least in my experience, have never been leaked. These are where the real ‘gold’ is. I saw the ‘courier’ video that was leaked (click here to see it -MSK) and it was very basic with few truly useful interactions. If that was done in house, it would have been much grander and much more detailed. People seem to forget about how large and how the scope of MSFT is beyond what you see today by 3-10 years.
Microsoft confirms Courier tablet, quashes hopes of shipping it [AppleInsider, April 29, 2010]
Microsoft has finally confirmed that it has been working on a tablet concept known as “Courier,” but the company has also announced that it has “no plans to build such a device at this time.”
The evolution of Courier at Microsoft
In 2008, Microsoft floated a mobile collaboration app for Windows Mobile under the name Courier. Nobody seemed to notice, given the overshadowing presence of iPhone 2.0 over the mobile software market.
The following year, Courier tablet concept photos were leaked by Gizmodo. It presented rendered depictions of dual-screen notebook supporting both touch and stylus input. The leak occurred just in time to suggest that Microsoft had big plans in place to rival the iPhone in the mobile arena, much like the introduction of the quickly forgotten Surface in 2007 had served as a temporary distraction from the original iPhone launch.
Shortly after the introduction of Apple’s iPad, new pictures were leaked by Engadget depicting the dual screen Courier as a veritable competitor and near twin of the iPad, although there were no real details about availability or pricing.
Microsoft continued to officially promote the Slate PCs introduced in January by PC makers, but bloggers excitedly spoke of Courier as a real product that would ship at the end of 2010, presumably at a reasonable price and with lots of features missing from Apple’s iPad.
Courier was also expected to run the same software (and Windows CE operating system) as the company’s Zune HD music player and Windows Phone 7 smartphones, creating a counterpoint to Apple’s iPhone OS and its App Store for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices.
Today, Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s VP of corporate communications, dashed any hopes for Courier in telling Engadget, “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. The ‘Courier’ project is an example of this type of effort and its technologies will be evaluated for use in future Microsoft offerings, but we have no plans to build such a device at this time.”
Engadget mused that “Courier will always remain in our hearts as one of the finest unicorns that ever unicorned across our screens.”
Speculation About the “Courier” Project [April 29, 2010]
Over the past few months there has been a ton of speculation about the “Courier” project from Microsoft. We’ve not discussed or confirmed the project. There is more speculation today, and below is what we are saying publicly:
“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. The ‘Courier’ project is an example of this type of effort and its technologies will be evaluated for use in future Microsoft offerings.”
I am excited about the great set of products and services rolling out from the company in the next few months – Office 2010, Windows Phone KIN, Windows Phone 7, SQL Server 2008 R2, Project Natal from the Xbox team, Windows Live Wave 4, among others. It is going to be a fun next few months!
Posted by Frank Shaw
Corporate Vice President, Corporate Communications.
Microsoft’s Tivanka Ellawala told the WSJ that the company’s done with smartphone hardware (beyond in-house prototypes, presumably): “We are in the software business and that is where our business will be focused,” he said. That means no follow-ups to the Kin social media smartphone, definitely; no resuscitation of the Courier e-reader/tablet project, probably; and a new focus on making apps for other platforms, quite possibly.
J Allard [June 28, 2008]
As Chief Experience Officer (CXO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), J Allard is responsible for the technical architecture and user experiences related to products and services of the Entertainment and Devices (E&D) division. Allard works closely with technical leaders across the company to align E&D product teams with Microsoft’s overall services strategy and product architecture, and drives the technical and design agenda to deliver Connected Entertainment experiences for consumers. With a unified approach and his personal passion for the possibilities of digital entertainment, Allard manages the E&D design group and also oversees an incubation team that scouts new opportunities for the division.
A 15-year veteran of Microsoft, Allard previously managed the technical development of the Xbox game console and Zune media player, and launched the Zune portable entertainment devices and services business. Allard helped shape the company’s Internet strategy, has shipped over 30 products at Microsoft and was a founding member of the Xbox, Windows NT and TCP/IP product families.
Allard holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Boston University and was recognized in 2003 as a Distinguished Alumnus, the highest honor the university confers on its alumni. Allard has been named to several leadership and influentials lists, including The Hollywood Reporter’s “Top 35 Entertainment Execs Under 35” and Details’ list of “Most Powerful Men Under 38,” and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader program.
As far as we know Microsoft’s Courier project is stone dead, but like due to its rather violent demise it spirit clearly still haunts the company, as its ghost appears to pop up every once in a while.
On this occasion we have a patent submitted very recently, on the 30th September, for a device which clearly embodies many of the concepts we first saw in the leaked Courier project.
The patent is summarized as such:
Touch sensitive displays are configured to accept inputs in the form of touches, and in some cases approaching or near touches, of objects on a surface of the display. Touch inputs may include touches from a user’s hand (e.g., thumb or fingers), a stylus or other pen-type implement, or other external object. Although touch sensitive displays are increasingly used in a variety of computing systems, the use of touch inputs often requires accepting significant tradeoffs in functionality and the ease of use of the interface.
Accordingly, a touch sensitive computing system is provided, including a touch sensitive display and interface software operatively coupled with the touch sensitive display. The interface software is configured to detect a touch input applied to the touch sensitive display and, in response to such detection, display touch operable user interface at a location on the touch sensitive display that is dependent upon where the touch input is applied to the touch sensitive display.
In one further aspect, the touch input is a handtouch input, and the touch operable user interface that is displayed in response is a pentouch operable command or commands. In yet another aspect, the activated user interface is displayed upon elapse of an interval following receipt of the initial touch input, though the display of the activated user interface can be accelerated to occur prior to full lapse of the interval in the event that the approach of a pen-type implement is detected.
This Summary is provided to introduce a selection of concepts in a simplified form that are further described below in the Detailed Description. This Summary is not intended to identify key features or essential features of the claimed subject matter, nor is it intended to be used to limit the scope of the claimed subject matter. Furthermore, the claimed subject matter is not limited to implementations that solve any or all disadvantages noted in any part of this disclosure.