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Applications & OS News

Microsoft Partners Hope Courier Isn't Another Tablet

Kevin McLaughlin

On Tuesday, Gizmodo posted photos of Courier, a device that features two 7-inch touch screens and what appears to be an integrated camera. Courier product development is reportedly being led by J. Allard, Microsoft's chief experience officer and CTO of the Entertainment and Devices Division, and the visionary behind the Xbox and Zune.

Microsoft executives have spent much of this year talking about the "three screens" of PCs, mobile devices and televisions, which combined with cloud-based services represent the future of the company's business. But Windows Mobile has fallen so far behind the rest of the market that the mobile pillar looks extremely shaky. Meanwhile, handset makers have begun to look for alternatives.

Some VARs feel Microsoft must take dramatic steps to simplify its platform, as its competitors have done, to keep from falling further behind.

"Right now we have Zune, we have Windows Mobile, we have multiple versions, and we have a difficult infrastructure," said Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft Gold partner. "In contrast, Apple and Google both have made one platform and done everything they can to simplify it."

Given the struggles Microsoft endured with Tablet PCs, some VARs say it's worth questioning whether the Courier tablet is the best course of action. Tablet PCs had great potential but were never widely adopted by application vendors, many of which have studiously avoided them. Hardware shortcomings also stalled growth of the Tablet PC market, although these weren't directly attributable to Microsoft.

Courier looks like an impressive device, but its success, like that of the Tablet PC market, will hinge on the participation of application vendors, says Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based Microsoft solution provider ITSynergy.

"The question is, are my main line of business application vendors going to take the time to write a 'tablet' version of their applications that make this thing actually practical to get work done, or does it just stay in the toy stage?" Cocanower said.

Andrew Brust, chief of new technology for twentysix New York, a Microsoft partner in New York, believes Microsoft is capable of altering its mobile strategy to make Courier a success, but he's reining in expectations until Microsoft shows that it's capable of actually executing on the vision this time around.

"Will the hardware be built by Microsoft or a contracted manufacturer, or will this be another OEM platform? In general, will this device follow the paradigm of Zune and Xbox or PCs and Windows Mobile? None of that is clear, and I'm not ready to assume the ideal answers will be the actual ones," Brust said.

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