Microsoft’s Courier tablet revived in Lenovo Yoga Book

Ever since Gizmodo uncovered the innovative tablet project two years ago, there’s been much speculation as to why the project was abruptly halted, but little hard evidence.

The Courier would have been a dual-screen “booklet” PC. Rather than a keyboard, it sported two 7-inch touchscreens, connected by a hinge. With those two screens, you could use it as kind of a so-called “infinite journal,” sketching or taking notes with a stylus on one side while reading the news or making appointments on the other. Sounds like the Lenovo Yoga Book that was just announced at IFA 2016 right? Except the Yoga Book does not have dual screens but something similar.

Microsoft’s Courier was no minor research project or futuristic video production : At the peak of its development, 130 employees were working the Courier. Many of them felt they were onto something big, and were within reach of creating a product that was wholly unique. Working internally and with manufacturing partners to develop multiple prototypes, each housing different features which were to eventually meld into a single device.

In 2009 when it felt like the whole world was holding its breath for the Apple tablet, Gizmodo revealed details about Microsoft’s Courier and suggested that it was the dream tablet people should be looking forward to. The device in question had even reached the stage where it was something more than a working prototype. It wasn’t a tablet but a booklet. You could fold it like a laptop but it was lighter, smaller, more portable.

A digital analog to a leather-bound notebook ideal for note-taking and sketching—was an eye-catching concept. A CNET report published in late 2011 revealed how Microsoft’s courier suffered an ill-fated death before it was even launched.

Heading the Courier team was J Allard, the man who made Microsoft realize the importance of the Internet, later to become one of the key figures in the Xbox project.

A competing vision came from Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows and Windows Live Division. His plan was to make Windows into a genuine tablet operating system.

Allard and Sinofsky were key executives at Microsoft, both tabbed as the next-generation brain trust.

Faced with these conflicting goals, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called on Bill Gates to help make the decision: should Microsoft push the radical, different Courier or should it evolve the Windows platform? Gates talked to the Courier crew and made the decision: Courier was cancelled, its team broken up, and Windows 8 represented Microsoft’s future in the tablet market. One would think Gates made the wrong choice there but he had his reasons. According to CNET, when Gates asked Allard how the device- Courier- would fetch emails for the users, Allard’s answer was, that everyone who had a Courier would also have a smartphone for quick e-mail writing and retrieval and a PC for more detailed exchanges.

Also Read : The Courier couldn’t run email clients but you can run Windows apps on your Android and Chromebook

Allard wasn’t touting the Courier as a PC replacement but a product geared towards the creative; it was meant to complement PCs. Courier users wouldn’t want or need a feature-rich e-mail application such as Microsoft’s Outlook. 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 Gates had a reaction described as “allergic” and now perhaps you’d be agreeing with Bill Gates. Apart from that misdirection, Allard had ignored the fact that Microsoft makes billions of dollars every year on its Exchange e-mail server software and its Outlook e-mail application.

Windows 8 was disappointing and a failure, but it was a stepping stone, albeit an important one in the transformation of Windows 7 to Windows 10. Even though Windows 7 is still the more widely used OS on PCs around the world, it’s safe to say Windows 10 is miles better. Many people have been dismayed by the cancellation of the Courier but some call it the right choice Microsoft made back then. We wouldn’t be commenting on that.

Here’s a video of what courier could’ve been like :


But ever since the abandoning of the Courier, Microsoft has been chasing behind the Apple’s iPad and in trying to stand out Microsoft has gone back to re-imagining tablets as PC replacements which is what they were supposed to be. Microsoft launched Surfaces and the Surface Book and everybody will agree a Surface Book is the best hybrid solution you can buy in the market today. But the ghost of the Courier is already here to haunt Microsoft

Like most tablets made in the last two years or so, the Yoga Book is taking its cues from Microsoft. But unlike most of those tablets, the Yoga Book seems to be inspired not by the Microsoft Surface, which even Apple has imitated with its iPad Pro— but rather the Microsoft Courier, a hotly-anticipated tablet that was killed on Bill Gates’ orders in 2010, before it was even officially announced.

Lenovo’s Yoga Book confirms the company’s innovation oriented approach what with it’s Moto Mods, The ThinkPads, the Yoga tablets and laptops and now this beautiful and innovative device. Check out the full coverage on the Yoga Book here.

I have been wondering what could’ve been, if J Allard had a better vision for the product he was working on or if Bill Gates had decided to back it and lead it towards that better vision. Had Microsoft launched a dual screen tablet in 2010-11, would today’s scenario be any different?


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