Microsoft "Courier" Tablet: The Right Stuff To Compete Against The Apple Tablet?

Courier uses multi-touch, but still relies heavily on the pen user interface. Good decision or bad?

More than just photos are leaking out about Courier, Microsoft's booklet sized tablet currently in development. Gizmodo has a video showing the Courier's user interface in action. The Gizmodo video is on YouTube (see below) and you should also check out Gizmodo's article about it. The second video looks at an earlier engineering prototype called Codex, also with very early UI design ideas. Courier looks to be the digital equivalent of your calendar, address book, notebook, photos and access to the web -- kind of like an "iPhone meets notebook and pen" device.

While the Courier does use gestures and multi-touch commands, probably the biggest question that popped up for me is whether the pen interface (digital ink) is the right choice for the job. Is the pen interface something that belongs in the Tablet PC era, but not in new touch interface devices? Part of me says the pen's a good idea because that's how we are used to capturing information in our notebooks.

But I personally rarely use a notebook or write things with a pen. I always capture information in my laptop or iPhone, which are pretty much with me constantly. Maybe the touch keyboard, like is used with the iPhone, is the way to go. I personally would rather type, even with a simulated digital keyboard, than write with a pen stylus. It's more akin to using my laptop. The downside is the touch keyboard takes up screen real-estate, where a pen interface doesn't. Apple solved this by hiding and showing the touch keyboard as needed. But the touch's keyboard is more of a thumb-style keypad, not sometime you type with like a normal physical keyboard.

What's really intriguing is thinking about Microsoft and Apple battling it out in the marketplace for this new booklet size tablet. You know Apple's device will be cleanly styled, well designed, and have very good usability. Microsoft's Courier interface is new, something we haven't seen before so we don't know what kind of reaction we'll see from users. In the meantime, we're left to watch videos and simulated interfaces. Hopefully not for long.

So... are you a pen interface user or fan? Or do you prefer the touch keyboard?

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