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Courier no more, not that it ever really was: a post mortem
The "no applications" concept is also a limitation. Although the claim was that the device used Windows 7 behind the scenes, it didn't permit the running of regular Windows 7 applications: only the Courier front-end.
This is a sensible idea for this kind of device, arguably even an essential one. The UI demands of a touch device are so wildly different from those of a mouse-driven device that the same programs just can't support both satisfactorily; it's probably the case that this is less of an issue on pen-driven hardware than pure-finger machines, since pens are more precise than fingers, but they're still not close enough that they can use a common user interface.
But the application-less design poses a problem for extensibility, and in an object that clearly wouldn't be cheap thanks to the hardware requirements , being essentially single-purpose is a big problem. Web browsing, the Infinite Journal, and e-mail and calendar tasks would probably cover a fair chunk of what people want to do, but they're never going to manage to cover everything. There's also a possible question of focus. Microsoft already has a number of projects in related areas; Windows Phone 7 is the big one, but there's also KIN, Surface, and the core Windows platform itself.
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Redmond certainly shouldn't allow Courier to distract from, or compromise those products. They're too important for that to be acceptable. That said, Microsoft is a large company, and can certainly handle multiple streams of development. A tightly focused team dedicated to a single project—like Courier—can provide innovation and insight that can be propagated throughout the rest of the organization, and can do so without draining resources from the more mainstream development areas.
As such, focus is not so much an issue in the research and prototype stage, but the marketing and productizing stage. Turning Courier into a shipping product would be a distraction for consumers, media, and marketers alike, especially when other important products are going to launch this year. The company needs to be percent behind Windows Phone 7 if it is to have a fighting chance of succeeding.
This is already being compromised somewhat by the launch of KIN; launching further products in this area would be immensely damaging. That said, there are plenty of positives to take from Courier, I believe. Aspects of data detection and manipulation look not a million miles away from Windows Phone 7's Smart Sensing , a kind of alternative to copy and paste. The KIN Spot functions as a kind of temporary storage area for related content to be grouped together, allowing some action to be taken on all the grouped objects simultaneously so for example, a bunch of pictures of a party might be placed in the spot, and then uploaded as a batch to Facebook.
Courier showed a similar concept: anything that you want to temporarily keep hold of could be wedged under the hinge between the screens; it'd then stay in place as you flicked to the page you want to keep it on. The journal sharing capability also looked not a million miles away from KIN Studio. The core idea of direct manipulation of objects, whether they be text or graphical, without using widgets as a proxy for the action being performed, is one of the things that gives Windows Phone 7 its striking appearance and accessibility, and these ideas were all central to Courier, too.
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I'm not sure I ever would have bought a Courier. I certainly want to play with one, get a feel for how well it works in person, but I don't know that it's the kind of device I actually need—or want—in my life. I know a lot of people who are in love with OneNote, and I'm sure a kind of purpose-built OneNote device would be right up their street, but personally it's not a program I've ever really cared for.
I just don't seem to have the mindset to use it. So for me, there's no feeling of personal loss—it's just a neat toy that I'm unfortunately not going to be able to play with. I suspect that a lot of people who found Courier so exciting are ultimately in the same boat. It's something we'd all like to use, but we probably wouldn't have gone out and bought it anyway.
The end of the project does, however, leave something of a gap in Microsoft's product line-up—an iPad-shaped gap. Redmond has been working on tablet PCs for many years now, but has met with little success. The reason for this is not hard to figure out; touch devices need their own user interface. They don't work if you take a desktop user interface, strip away the mouse and keyboard, and add a touchscreen.
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