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Microsoft’s Courier And Norhtec’s Tablet: The Impossible And The Possible?

“Forget Apple’s Tablet!” That’s what gearheads are shouting from the rooftops after Gizmodo’s leak of a new Microsoft product–“The Courier”–appeared last night during the opening of the Gizmodo Gallery.

“Forget Apple’s Tablet!” That’s what gearheads are shouting from the rooftops after Gizmodo’s leak of a new Microsoft product–“The Courier”–appeared last night during the opening of the Gizmodo Gallery.

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Check out the video of Courier in action–Gizmodo’s apparently obtained the information from directly within Microsoft’s secret development team. (The video file shown last night was titled “projectwood” but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s a Microsoft code name.) It’s a dual 7-inch screen unit with Wi-fi, GPS and camera built-in.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? The kind of amazingly futuristic UI that we’ve seen a thousand times in sci-fi movies, infused with Surface-like powers, promising a crossover between a Star Trek digital pad, and The HitchHiker’s Guide to The Galaxy as depicted in the movie, and the voice of that spooky lady in the Palm Pre ads. It’s also, according to Gizmodo, absolutely real, in development and currently at a “late prototype” stage. You will, allegedly, be able to buy this thing soon.

But then check out this video, of a real prototype tablet PC developed by NorhTec–its actually depicting development hardware for the Xcore Info Pad. The technology gap is enormous.

The idea is to take the company’s EduBook notebook PC and squeeze it into a tablet form with an 8-inch screen with resistive touch sensitivity, running Linux and with either Li-ion or AA-batteries for power.

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Comparing the two of these devices tells us several things. Even though NorhTec’s machine is using cheap hardware and a pre-existing OS, to keep its costs below $300, it’s a pretty fair demonstration of the kind of tablet PC we’ll actually be able to buy next year, using current technology. Microsoft’s device is at the other end of the spectrum–dual full-color multitouch screens and a sleek, custom-designed (highly Apple-esque, and Surface-influenced) user interface. It’ll surely cost a hefty sum when it surfaces.

But that’s if it actually does surface. Do you believe MS, still hobbling along after its Windows Vista disgrace, can really pull off such an apparently revolutionary machine? Or is this just a glimpse of the distant future, along the lines of its Vision of 2019 promotional video? Why is the Gizmodo article authored by “The Paperboy”? Will Apple’s iTablet, which everyone is expecting next year, have this sort of capability? Or are both of these two devices merely vaporware, and the closest we’ll get is NohrTec’s or the now-delayed CrunchPad?

There is one glimmer of proof that Courier is actually a real machine: Over at BeingManan, there’s more leaked Microsoft information about a research product dubbed Codex. It’s based on Microsoft’s tablet-UI-rethink InkSeine technology, which has been at a stage between pure science and real product for some while, and it too is a dual-screen touch-sensitive journal-like device. This hardware really is in rough prototype stage as it looks a mess, its UI comes complete with Windows features (unlike Courier) and it has a detachable-screen mode that would certainly add to the complexity and price of a real device. 

Considering that MS has been working on this for a while, it certainly lends credence to the Courier rumors.

[via Gizmodo]

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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