Print 40 comment(s) - last by tng.. on May 26 at 11:33 AM

Microsoft Courier tablet is dead.
Pioneer Studios offices closed and employees scattered

A year after Microsoft killed the much-anticipated Courier tablet project, PC World reports that the entire team responsible for the project, Pioneer Studios, has disbanded.

Although Courier was never an official Microsoft product, the design and concept behind the dual-screen hinged tablet garnered a lot of enthusiasm. (Note: Sony is expected to launch a tablet with a similar form factor in the near future.)

Pioneer Studios' Seattle office closed a year after J Allard, a former top designer at Microsoft credited with founding Pioneer, left the company. Pioneer cofounder, George Petschnigg, is now listed as an "entrepreneur" working on an "undisclosed new venture" on his LinkedIn profile. He was instrumental in securing $20 million in development funding for the now dead Courier. According to a PC World, he is now at Microsoft's Startup Business Group. 

Other Pioneer Studios employees have also reportedly left the company or have joined other groups, notably the Startup Business Group.

In addition to Pioneer, Microsoft has a number of other incubation groups, including FUSE Labs, the Garage, and the Hardware Incubation Lab.

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By maven81 on 5/20/2011 10:15:33 AM , Rating: 5
I can't believe how much they shot themselves in the foot on this one. I knew people that were ready to buy the thing based on the one promo video that was released. I've come across diehard mac fans that were interested in it. I know developers that were dreaming up applications to take advantage of it. And it just gets tossed away.
It's actually amazing how often Microsoft comes up with a great idea but doesn't capitalize on it. They had a wifi capable mp3 player but let apple steal their thunder. They had several OS innovations during the longhorn project that either got dumped completely (the new filesystem) or downplayed to the extent that they were accused of stealing ideas they came up with (witness apple's hoopla with time machine and widgets which use tech MS had already implemented).
I really don't understand them sometimes.

RE: fools...
By DanNeely on 5/20/2011 10:45:49 AM , Rating: 5
The problem is Balmer. He's the perfect person to maximize the amount of money that can be earned with MS's legacy products as they slowly fade into the sunset over the next decade or three. He's also incapable of looking more than a few months into the future and has systematically squashed anything new that might supplant a legacy platform with something that won't collapse as phones/tablets take over more of the PC space. Likewise he's stomped all over various R&D groups because their quarterly profit numbers are bad.

To turn the company around MS first and foremost needs to sack him; the problem is that he's already sacked all the other people who could be credible internal successors.

RE: fools...
By Da W on 5/20/2011 11:27:34 AM , Rating: 2
100% true.
The thing is only Bill Gates owns more stocks than Ballmer. And Gates is the chairman and his friend. Ballmer stays there as long as he wants to.

But GOD with all the technology in their lab i would make some kick-ass products if i was CEO... one can always dream right?

RE: fools...
By TakinYourPoints on 5/20/2011 4:07:15 PM , Rating: 2
No kidding. The amount that Microsoft spends in R&D is astronomical. That they have so few shipping products outside of operating systems and office software, with an even lower number of successful ones, to show for it is bizarre. It is a vision problem and it comes from the top.

RE: fools...
By p05esto on 5/21/2011 6:24:26 PM , Rating: 2
What? You must be kidding, MS has so many products and services that they will be around for generations. They make the fricking software that makes ALL other software for crying out loud (Visual Studio). Seriously we could make a list of 100 very successful products that make them boatloads of money. I mean, MS owns the business world hands down - and that's where the REAL money is at. Calm down folks, MS isn't going anywhere.

RE: fools...
By tayb on 5/21/2011 9:10:12 PM , Rating: 2
I agree here. MS has a huge array of products most people just aren't aware of them because most of them aren't consumer oriented.

Internet Information Services
Visual Studio
Windows 7
Windows Server
Microsoft Sql Server
Xbox 360
Office Suite
Windows Phone 7
Silverlight (ever been on Netflix?)

And I could go on and on and on. Not to mention all of the software and products that go alongside all of the above. They are everywhere.

The Courier was a cool concept but that's about all that it was. It would have been impossible to power both screens on battery life for more than a few hours, they would have had to build an entire OS just for this one product, the hardware to run both of these screens wasn't mature enough at the time (and still may not be), and the cost of the dual screens would have raised the price well above acceptable cost levels.

There is a reason this product was killed and it was the right call.

RE: fools...
By T2k on 5/22/11, Rating: 0
RE: fools...
By jonp on 5/20/2011 12:02:56 PM , Rating: 2
You are spot-on about Balmer. He should have been fired long ago. It's hard to imagine Gates sitting around watching Balmer dismantle one of the great business success stories. MS has lots of smart people but Balmer wastes their talent and ignores their counsel. He is seen as a bad joke. It is really almost too hard to watch MS suffer under his total misdirection of MS resources and talent. And you're right that he is sucking every last dollar out of the legacy products; in fact, that is his only focus.

RE: fools...
By tng on 5/20/2011 1:26:31 PM , Rating: 5
Balmer is just a symptom, MS is now a bureaucracy and this is something that happens all to often in a top heavy organization.

Here is what happens...

1. Employee will come up with great idea for new product.

2. R&D will develop product and test to a beta level.

3. R&D goes to management and says "Look at this, we could possibly sell a million of these! This is the future!"

4. Management says NO because there is no guarantee that they will sell a million and they don't want to be held accountable for a product failure.....

5. 2 to 5 years later the competition comes out with the exact same product and sells billions of them.

The bureaucracy is the problem. To many people in the food chain that don't want to risk their job by authorizing some project that may fail, since everybody will point the finger at them. Smaller companies will take the risk, also companies like Apple with someone like Steve Jobs at the helm will take the risk because Steve says they will.

Now that Bill Gates is not there to tell people on a daily basis to approve, push projects through and micro-manage, MS is and will be lost to mid level management that basically phones it in and will never take chances.

The only company that I have seen that avoids this is 3M. They encourage risk taking on new products and R&D as part of their corporate culture.

RE: fools...
By TakinYourPoints on 5/20/2011 4:10:01 PM , Rating: 2
Excellent post

RE: fools...
By Reclaimer77 on 5/20/11, Rating: -1
RE: fools...
By tng on 5/21/2011 12:14:10 AM , Rating: 4
Right off the bat you got it wrong. Low level employees aren't the ones paid to "come up" with ideas. Those ideas come from the top down, employees are the ones who's job is to make the idea a real and tangible product. All organizations are "top heavy" in this regard.

RC77, normally I would agree with you but in this case I my job takes me into some of the largest companies in the country. Many have dedicated R&D facilities that are there to come up with ideas.

For instance a 6 years ago a company I go to quite often came up a new type of medical scanner, took it all the way to a working unit and then went to upper management to get approval, and was shot down.....

Now company sales are way down due to the fact that one of their smaller rivals are cleaning their clocks with the exact same technology that they said would never make it years ago. They didn't even think it was worth filing patents on.

Management at the time said that the current medical scanning technology would dominate for the foreseeable future and they did not want to put the infrastructure in for a new line.....

I also know of other wonderful screwups by large companies for the same reasons, to risky, to expensive. A startup comes along and takes the risk with venture capital and away they go.

RE: fools...
By Cuhulin on 5/22/2011 2:22:43 AM , Rating: 2

I think your number 1, that "Low level employees aren't the ones paid to "come up" with ideas" is dead wrong in any good organization. In a well run company, every employee is paid to make the company better -- and I've done both the three letter titles and the outside consulting to know it. As the OP stated, the problem is with the companies that don't take advantage of that, and Microsoft is a key example these days.

I don't know whether Courier should have gone ahead or not -- the cost concern was very real -- but the company shows every example of being a company that is too caught up in its management battles to be the success it should be. That's why Ballmer hasn't been able to move the stock price.

The simple fact is that Ballmer is a pretty good manager for a big business, definitely a good, maybe great COO. The enterprise expansions show that. What the company needs, though, is a new vision to pull the key pieces forward to the next decade, and that is just what Ballmer lacks.

RE: fools...
By tayb on 5/21/2011 9:17:33 PM , Rating: 2
Management says no because they look at a product, look at the costs associated with that product, and predict how many they will sell. There is a reason engineers don't run the company because sometimes things that are cool are not always things that are practical and/or make sense.

The Courier would not have sold well and would not have been a successful product. Dual screens would have killed battery life, killed performance, and sky rocketed the price way out of the e-reader/tablet market. It was a cool concept and I'm sure they learned a lot during R&D but it was not practical. It would not have performed well on the market and they would have ended up losing much more money then they already had.

Microsoft doesn't always kill new stuff. Take a look at Sync, Microsoft Surface, the Xbox, and the Zune before it was eventually killed off. These decisions are not phoned in. They are calculated business decisions and more often than not they are the right decisions. The Courier would have been a cool but extremely unsuccessful product.

RE: fools...
By tng on 5/26/2011 11:33:23 AM , Rating: 2
Microsoft doesn't always kill new stuff. Take a look at Sync, Microsoft Surface, the Xbox, and the Zune before it was eventually killed off.
All initiated before Gates relinquished full control, I think.

Also I can think of as many reasons why the Courier would have been a success as you could have for it to not be. Two screens and battery life? Since it is twice the tablet it can have twice the battery, and with software where the user selects how many screens are on when dealing with certain jobs, battery life could be much longer than the average tablet.

Killed performance? Again, since it has twice theoretically space, it could leverage 2 lower capacity processors that would give it better speed on the same power, or a whole host of things that could be done to increase performance...

Price? Well given the MS position in business nowdays that could have been leveraged to sell this at a higher price to companies that could use this. Sales people on customer sites that need to do quick presentations, delivery, inventory people who need quick data and lots of it displayed on a larger format than a regular tablet... Whole bunch of things that MS could have pushed it toward.

I would push this as a tablet for professionals, where as the Ipad is great for reading books, playing games and updating Facebook.

RE: fools...
By Aloonatic on 5/20/2011 11:01:23 AM , Rating: 5
When you say "fools" are you referring to MS who have stopped courier development, or the friends of yours who said that they would buy one of these based purely on a demonstration video that almost certainly wasn't going to be 100% the same as the production model, and had no estimated cost information either, so they had no real idea of what a retail unit would set them back?

It's one thing to come up with a nice idea and a pretty video to show to people, but it's another to make a production device that works in the way that the video shows, at a cost that does not make it prohibitively expensive for the general market.

Besides, from what I recall of the video, it didn't look like it was running an OS that was like WP7, and that could have been very confusing to the public.

One thing that people seem to ignore in the iPad/Android table debate is that iPad has an interface that is very similar to the iPhone's, whereas the already numerous Android UIs out there are now being added to by almost every tablet that comes along.

Google are franticly trying to back pedal on this and force a unified interface on Android devices, so maybe MS want to make a table device that uses something that looks, feels and works a lot more like WP7 so that they don't find themselves into the position that Google are in now?

I can't help but feel that Android tablets would be selling better if they all had an interface that looked similar to each other, and similar to Android phones too, rather than some having Moto Blur, HTC Sense, Samsung whatever it's called, Eden Adam something... That would allow people to pick up and Android table and have a chance of understanding how it worked right away, as it looks and works in a similar way to how their Android phone does, which is the experience that iPhone users have when they pick up an iPad.

RE: fools...
By Alexvrb on 5/20/2011 7:20:06 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, lots of people jump all over them saying that they're "fools" for cancelling it, but they would never have bought one if they actually released it. If they actually shipped something, it would get destroyed due to high costs, a crowded market, and general lack of "teh apps".

RE: fools...
By melgross on 5/20/2011 11:41:44 AM , Rating: 2
This thing would have cost upwards of $1,000, maybe a lot upwards. Dual 7" screens, and all of that complexity? Likely not very sellable.

Guys, much is being made of this product, but what was it, really? It was a product based on CE, like their phones, with yet another UI. It would have no software available upon introduction. We see how successful devices are when that happens. We also see how successful devices are when they cost more than the iPad. The Acer is reportedly doing well only because it's cheap.

While it's sad that the team is gone, it's to be expected. They now have no purpose since their entire purpose was the Courier.

RE: fools...
By mkrech on 5/20/2011 1:47:57 PM , Rating: 2
My understanding was the concept was all just that... a concept.

I never heard any official statement that it would be based on CE. I agree, that would be a foolish plan.

The hardware cost is not the issue. It would be competitive against any similar product.

The UI is the differentiating factor. To that end, if a functioning UI could be built on an OS that allows development of simple cloud based apps, this would exceed the hype and likely be a pivotal component of the MS cloud strategy.

Personally, I think the UI components of this concept will start appearing (individually or all together) in the near future. We will just have to wait to see if they come out of MS or from someone else...

RE: fools...
By TakinYourPoints on 5/20/2011 4:29:06 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, it was just a concept animation. If people are going to get excited over internal marketing pitches, great, but I'd rather see an actual product before making any judgement.

RE: fools...
By Reclaimer77 on 5/20/2011 11:18:19 PM , Rating: 2
Are you serious? It was just a concept product. That's like saying car companies fail because those super concept cars they show us NEVER make it to the dealerships. Which they don't 95% of the time.

They had several OS innovations during the longhorn project that either got dumped completely (the new filesystem)

Innovations that caused so much controversy with programmers and people crying about their "legacy" support that MS was FORCED into scrapping them? Those innovations? Yeah.

Hell remember Vista? MS changes things and does some things new, and BAM, people freak out and grab their pitchforks in defiance. MS is in the impossible position of trying to make EVERYONE happy. And nothing makes people happy like the status quo.

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