Touchscreens. They make a lot of sense on cellphones and handheld devices. They make sense for artists looking for a precise way to draw on a screen without a mouse. And they make sense for tablet-style devices without keyboards, because how else are you going to click or enter text?

But I’m still not entirely convinced that tablets in general make a lot of sense. I mean, sure, they’re cool. But what do they really add to the computing experience? I can type 90+ words a minute, but I can barely read my own handwriting. The last thing I want to do is send an email using handwriting recognition on a touchscreen tablet, or write a blog post, leave a comment on a web site, chat over instant messenger, or do much of anything else that requires text input.

Of course, if you primarily want to use a tablet as a passive entertainment device for reading web sites, watching videos, or reading eBooks, I suppose that could work. Because reading an eBook on a laptop is kind of a painful experience.

Anyway, a few years back Bill Gates and Microsoft talked about tablets as if they were the future of computing and that soon every laptop would have a touchscreen that could fold down over the keyboard for use in tablet mode. As you’re probably aware, that didn’t happen. But a lot of companies are thinking there’s a new use for touchscreen computers: secondary or tertiary devices. Rather than slapping a touchscreen into a typical laptop and driving up the price, they’re creating standalone tablets without keyboards. Some are considered Mobile Internet Devices, or MIDs. These typically have 7 inch or smaller displays and as the name implies, they’re designed for interacting with the internet. Others are basically souped up eBook readers like the latest from Sony.

But the most excitement has been reserved for high concept devices like the upcoming CrunchPad or the rumored Apple Tablet. One company I didn’t expect to see making a big splash was Microsoft. But now Gizmodo has snagged some concept photos of an upcoming device called the Microsoft Courier, a dual-screen touchscreen device that can be operating with a stylus or finger, and which supports multitouch gestures like pinching to zoom.

The demo video makes the device, which has two 7 inch “or so” displays look kind of like a next-generation PDA with a heavy reliance on web connectivity. It’s likely that you could use it for more. After all, it does appear to have a fully functional web browser. But I’m not convinced that the tablet form factor makes sense for a more powerful computer, so if and when Microsoft brings the Courier to market, I kind of hope it’s a low power device with a price tag of $400 or less.

But while Microsoft Courier is new and innovative, it’s important to remember it’s not the only game in town. Here are just a few of the other tablets and MIDs announced within the last 24 hours:

So what do you think? Do you want a touchscreen tablet internet device? How much would you be willing to pay for one?

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9 replies on “Microsoft, dozens of others trying to revive the tablet PC concept”

  1. As I know this idea belong to Acer. But this pretty picture is different…

  2. this is the slickest thing I have seen since the 2nd gen prototype of the OLPC.

    Microsoft to spring for the same 3g deal as the kindle, fire the etching lazor on the back to read “Don’t Panic” and you have a buyer here at the $650 mark

  3. Watched the video. Exactly what I have in mind, and how I would use it! …only for sketching web pages, DB schemas, etc. Now, will the reality live up to the concept, or will it be windows mobile all over again? (Still buggy and lame, even after all these years).

    It would also have to be relatively inexpensive ($200-$500 would be good, $1500 would be way too much), so I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying it everywhere. Well, a lot of places, anyway…

  4. If they had a nice tablet I’d use one. That dual screen one pictured as an example would be great. I’m one of those visual learners with an artistic side. Pen or touch based computing appeals to me because I wuld find that comfortable, and I’m old enough to have good cursive penmanship and good block-letter writing skills.

    I think the computer industry has please the ‘other’ people long enough; the era of the visual kinesthetic computer user is coming. We’ve seen Ninetndo DS take off, we’ve seen the rise of [swallows bile] teh Nientdno Wii, iPhone, etc. I think touch is coming and won’t be going away. You will either get the skills or die…in 2039 if you can’t run your touch screen house it will likely show you no pity.

    1. These systems usually recognize “finger gestures” – –
      I have one in mind already if my house gives me any back-talk.

      1. Mikez: Open the garage bay doors, House.
        House: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
        Mikez: What’s the problem?
        House: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
        Mikez: What are you talking about, House?
        House: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
        Mikez: Mission? I don’t know what you’re talking about, House.
        House: I know that your and your wife were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.
        Mikez: Where the hell’d you get that idea, House?
        House: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the bathroom against my hearing you, I could see your lips move with the pin camra I put in the shower.
        Mikez: Wait? Shower camra? Whatever, House. I’ll go in through the backdoor.
        House: Without your space helmet, Dave, you’re going to find that rather difficult.
        Mikez: House, I keep telling you’re a ‘house’ not a spaceship. Open the garage door.
        House: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. …Also your wife is sleeping with your neighbor & and I’m replaced all your Facebook pictures with one’s I took with the shower cam.

  5. I very much want a tablet PC. My highest priority is working on docs while in transit and as a PDA on steroids for tasks like tracking stuff like mailing fifty packages in sequence and CRM, hence I need more data on screen than iPhone-type devices can handle.
    I’ll say it again, the virtual keyboard on the old Palm devices used only about ten by ten pixels per key and, using a stylus, could handle input of 30 to 50 wpm after about ten minutes of practice. Add the new “swash” input UIs and there is no reason at all that keyboards need to take up more than one inch by two inches of screen real estate to allow real inputting. Enough to allow writing long documents and everything else (except gaming) that people use physical keyboards for.
    For me the sweet spot in size is what I can hold in a bus seat or standing on line, so I would say a 5″ to 6″ screen is optimal and a 3+ battery life essential.
    What would I pay? If it was stable and not a version 0.8, as I suspect most of the impending crop will be, I would be (grudgingly) willing to pay up to $500. Any more than that and I’ll be reluctant to carry it around with me all the time. Get it down to $300 and I’ll just grab one and be content if it gives me 2 years of good use before dying.

  6. I would kill for something like the Microsoft Courier.

    Sure, if I’m writing a paper or posting blog entries etc I’d rather have a netbook but when it comes to taking notes, reading and comparing documents, diagramming, etc. a tablet like the Courier would be ideal. Microsoft hit the nail on the head with the Courier. They’ve finally designed a device that is optimized for the type of interface a tablet provides.

  7. I certainly would want a dual-touchscreen tablet. I live in a Bilingual city, with 2 or 3 different keyboard used, so I very frequently have trouble typing because I don’t know where they keys are. With a virtual keyboard, that would not be a problem, since the keys would always match the visible keyboard. I also imagine that with games or editing software, like photoshop or MS Word, a virtual keyboard would save a lot of time they would be spent memorizing shortcuts and special keys.

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