Last Thursday several Gadget lovers mourned with deep pain when Engadget wrote about sad premature demise of Microsoft Courier. It kind of made almost every Microsoft Fan (Who are an absolute minority now) a bit sad. Rumours about Microsot developing a dual-screen tablet started last September, and soon it’s images and even videos were leaked out. Microsoft however never confirmed it officially, until it decided to scrap the project.
The question however is, why would Microsoft abandon such an interesting product? Before Apple launched iPad nobody was sure of utility or commercial appeal of a Tablet PC. However, Apple’s iPad is one of the most successful début products in our recent memory. In the very first month of it’s launch it has sold 1 Mn units. Vladislav Savov at Engadget writes, “Steve (Jobs) told us it’d be revolutionary, and if sales are the measure of a device’s success, then the iPad seems to be well on track to validating its creator’s bold claims.” Now when future of Tablet Computing was looking so rosy, why Microsoft abandoned something, that was already creating some excitement among Techies?
Microsoft Courier is an interesting case of a proactive exit. There is lot of academic work on Innovation and Innovation system however there is not sufficient research available on abandonment of innovations. As it’s important for companies to know, how and when to commit to an innovation, it’s equally important to know, when to abandon an innovation. Research suggests that a company might abandon to pursue a new product, in case (i) the market doesn’t move according to its expectations or (ii) the planned innovation is not strategically important for the company. I found another interesting explanation in an article by Sanjay Jain and Kamalini Ramdas (2005). Using examples from Videogame industry they elaborate on what they have termed as a pace keeping approach to product development. In Videogame consoles, the development cycle ranges from two to five years, whereas the development cycle for graphics processing unit (GPU), which is a core underlying technology, takes about six months. In an industry like this, where core technology evolves much faster than the product, at times it makes sense to abandon a new product development, just because it’s neither easy nor profitable to keep pace with rapidly advancing technology.
Going back to the Microsoft Courier, do we really believe that this was a reason? In this case, it seems more the problem of ‘Apps’ rather than core technology. After successful launch of iPad, most of the applications developers have strongly invested their efforts, energy and creativity in developing killer Apps for iPad. Any new Tablet, with a different platform than iPad, could face a temporary ‘Apps-Drought’. In an article in March, Fastcompany had predicted a similar outcome based on the same logic.
We don’t know, and probably would never know why Courier was shelved. Maybe Bill, The Gates has some other surprises up his sleeve. Maybe Microsoft just lost interest in Courier. Maybe it was just pure bureaucratic problem of ‘cost overruns’ etc etc. The bottomline is Courier will never be a reality. A dream, that never came true!
So here is a video of a wonder product, you never had!
(1) Agarwal, Rajshree; Bayus, Berry & Tripsas, Mary. 2005. ‘Abandoning Innovation in an Emerging Industry. ‘ Working Paper.
(2) Jain, S., K. Ramdas. 2005. Up or out—or stay put? Product positioning in an evolving technology environment. Production and Operations Management 14(3) 362–376.