Do you remember Microsoft’s top secret Couriet tablet project? It was a dual screen, book-like tablet first leaked well before Apple unveiled the iPad, created by J. Allard, the mind behind Microsoft’s fantastic Xbox console.
It’s a concept that has aged well, mostly because it’s one of the only tablet designs around that isn’t just trying to rip off Apple’s idea of what a tablet should be wholesale. It’s still, in fact, brought up as an example of how Microsoft could have competed with Apple in the tablet market from the get go.
So what happened to the Courier? Why wasn’t it released? It all came down to the fact that Bill Gates had an “allergic reaction” to the project because it didn’t run Outlook.
Cnet’s got a great story on what ended up killing the Courier:
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. He reasoned 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. Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
But the device wasn’t intended to be a computer replacement; it was meant to complement PCs.
Courier users wouldn’t want or need a feature-rich e-mail application such as Microsoft’s Outlook that lets them switch to conversation views in their inbox or support offline e-mail reading and writing. 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 who talked with an attendee of the meeting.
What’s fascinating here is that while it’s easy to say “no email” is madness on a tablet (after all, that’s what sunk the BlackBerry PlayBook), Allard at least had a cohesive vision for the Courier: it wasn’t about being a laptop or smartphone replacement, it was about being a device for media consumption and creation.
Sound familiar? Allard had identified the core tablet idea that Apple ended up embracing for the iPad… and Microsoft axed the project, even though if Allard had been allowed to continue, Microsoft and Apple might have reached market with similarly exciting devices at the exact same time. It’s this sort of institutional short-sightedness that is at the core of Microsoft’s problems these days, and sadly, with Windows 8 still another year away, that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.