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The Courier’s path not taken

As I predicted, news of Steve Ballmer’s impending resignation has ushered in a series of articles looking back although the real deluge will no doubt begin when he finally steps down. Tom Warren at The Verge invokes the Courier digital scrapbook/organizer as a missed opportunity:

But perhaps no Ballmer-led decision has gotten more attention than that shelving of the Courier, which had been spearheaded by forward-thinking Microsoft designer J. Allard, back in 2010. The move has served as a rallying cry for Microsoft detractors ever since, a microcosm of a corporate culture where delays — often driven by internal politicking — have put the company behind.

Courier was a daring and differentiated device initiative from Microsoft, the kind that would have created a new category. In that way, it was like the original Surface, the legacy of which is germinating the name for Microsoft’s also-ran but successor-destined tablet. At least the addressable market for Surface has been established by the iPad and been eaten into by cheap 7″ Android tablets such as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire. But of course, that doesn’t mean everyone has been successful with smartly designed, low-priced and decently distributed tablets.

Courier, unlike the original table-based Surface, was a consumer product, or at least a personal one, and I guess that it would have cost somewhere between $500 and $1,000. I wonder why detractors have adopted it as a rallying cry, though. Innovative as its user interface was, its use case was simply too limited, at least from the videos of it that leaked. Even iPad apps that mimic its design as repositories have failed to attract much buzz. Really the only way to justify Courier is as a statement product like , Courier may have been worth pursuing. Certainly, people were intrigued by it. Assuredly, it couldn’t have done any worse than the ill-conceived Kin..

Obviously, a company does not ship products expecting that they will fail. Assuming that Courier lived up to the promise of its videos, perhaps Microsoft should have shipped the Courier even if it knew it faced an uphill battle. From its ashes, it could have picked up experience that could be repurposed in other products, and enhanced its reputation as an innovator. In the long-term, it is better to fail with a Newton than with a Kin.