RealTime IT News

Is Microsoft's 'Courier' Delivering Something New?

New leaks of what's believed to be Microsoft's upcoming mobile devices has the rumor mill working overtime.

Media and industry watchers have been buzzing since reports surfaced earlier this week of a new Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) project codenamed "Pink" -- which rumors say is a new generation of Windows Mobile phones featuring the company's own branding. Rumors also pointed to an upcoming Microsoft-branded tablet PC.

Then, Tuesday night, gadget site Gizmodo published photos it claimed were of a new Microsoft tablet-style PC, codenamed "Courier."

Gizmodo said the device -- which more closely resembles an open book rather than a traditional tablet PC -- will include a hinged pair of approximately 7-inch displays, a design enabling it to fold up. Courier also supports input via a multi-touch screen and a stylus, according to the report, and includes a camera and, potentially, an inductive pad for battery charging.

Despite the frenzy around Courier and Pink, it's still far from clear whether either exist at all, and whether they'll ever make it to production.

Courier, in particular, seems poised to follow in the footsteps of earlier Microsoft efforts that garnered only a lukewarm reception.

The company has had pen-based computing initiatives going back to the early 1990s, and has had support in Windows for tablet PC computing since 2001. Still, despite years of efforts and losses by hardware partners, the form factor and user interface have never caught on.

The Courier project, according to Gizmodo, is being headed up by long-time Microsoft exec J Allard. But some observers don't see that as an indication that the design might be on its way to becoming a reality.

Allard, who today serves as the company's chief experience officer and the CTO in its Entertainment and Devices Division, had been heavily involved in the development of Microsoft's extremely successful Xbox game consoles, as well as with the Zune music players.

But Matt Rosoff, research vice president for consumer products and services at Directions on Microsoft, noted however that Allard currently works on prototyping new user interface designs, not on designing new devices.

"Calling [Courier] a prototype might be too much because that group is working on user experience design, not a product that will be out any time soon," Rosoff told InternetNews.com.

Rosoff also doubts that Microsoft will come out with any sort of tablet device sporting its own branding.

That might not be surprising, considering that beyond the Xbox, Zune and miscellaneous peripherals, Microsoft has steered clear of the hardware business. In the past, Microsoft has sometimes come up with the specs for a device the company would like to see partners manufacture and sell under their own brands. That's often yielded only mixed results.

Additionally, the tablet PC design, in particular, has not been a runaway success by any stretch.

"Microsoft isn't going into the hardware business," Rosoff added. "These are some user interface experiments. We don't know of any plans," to sell Courier on their own.

The software giant, meanwhile, is staying mum on the topic, with a spokesperson declining to comment on "rumors or speculation."