Microsoft may revive 'Courier' concept with foldable tablet focused on digital ink

Microsoft may once again be considering taking the term "digital tablet" a touch too seriously. A new report from Windows Central claims the company is experimenting with a foldable tablet it calls "Andromeda," which you'd essentially use like a digital Moleskine.

Not only would it be rather compact, but you'd a stylus with it much as you'd use a fancy fountain pen or Blackwing pencil with Moleskine's black-bound journals. You'd fold the tablet like a journal, and it'd likely incorporate Microsoft's advances in digital ink technology. And it's possible you'll see it as early as "sometime in 2018."

Sound familiar? That's because the project as described sounds a lot like the Courier "digital journal" Microsoft had toyed with making in the latter years of the last decade. Ultimately, it abandoned the project, in part because Bill Gates had an "allergic reaction" to the concept.

An early concept for the Courier. Image credit: Extreme Tech

An early concept for the Courier. Image credit: Extreme Tech

If the new Andromeda device works as planned, that means we'll have a digital device that's more like a traditional pen-and-paper note-taking notebook than the touchscreen devices we're so used to today.

Much like the Amazon Kindle, the Andromeda appears to be a device that's largely built for one purpose. In this case, it's note-taking, so it'll run on a new app that will sync with OneNote. You'll also be able to run a few additional apps such as the Edge browser or Photos. If you're really a fan of this sort of thing, it may even come with cellular support so it can serve as a smartphone replacement.

Beyond that, we don't really know much about the device. When it's described as a "foldable" device, does that mean it has two screens? Does it mean you'll open it and use it as one screen with a split down the middle? We'll have to wait and see.

Write and wrong

If I may interject, I confess I'm one of those weirdos who writes many notes (and sometimes even drafts) in longhand on my iPad Pro with my Apple Pencil. And I'm not really convinced the Andromeda will be all that appealing as described.

One of the nice things about writing by hand on a tablet like the iPad (or the Surface Pro 4, to stay company-specific) is that the device actually enhances the freedom and fluidity you get from writing longhand on, say, a legal pad.

Write in an app like Notability or Notes Plus, and you can keep your hand comfortably in one position while you push up an endless sheet of paper as you write. The big, wide screen of an iPad or a Surface allows an additional degree of freedom that a cramped split-screen surface probably would not. 

Too many apps and devices that cater to longhand writers try excessively to capture the sensation of writing on a traditional constrained sheet of paper, and I worry that Microsoft may be falling into the same trap.

In short, I'm well aware that I'm probably the niche target audience the Andromeda is aimed at, but I can't see how it'd do its job any better than the tablets we already have.

I'm always up for surprises, though.