Former Microsoft Courier team members launch hot new apps for the iPad

Former Microsoft Courier team members launch hot new apps for the iPad

Summary: Former Microsoft execs who were associated with the nixed Courier dual-screen tablet project are resurfacing at companies doing Courier-inspired apps for Apple's iPad.


The spirit of the Courier -- Microsoft's dual screen tablet that never made it to market -- is alive and thriving ... on the iPad. And a number of members of the disbanded Courier team are the ones keeping it so.

FiftyThree Inc. -- the developer of a new content-creation app for the iPad called Paper -- is led by a roster of former Microsoft Courier and  Xbox designers and developers. Another new Courier-like app launched this week from Tapose, a company backed by former Microsoft Courier champion J Allard.

Courier was the dual-screen tablet that was being developed as a skunkworks project inside Microsoft until company brass decided to nix the project in the spring of 2010. Interface-wise, Courier looked something like a Franklin Covey planner on steroids. Microsoft subsequently shuttered Pioneer Studios, which was charged with building “brand driven consumer experiences for Microsoft’s entertainment business: Xbox, Zune, Mobile, and emerging areas,” in May, 2011.

A handful of the designers and developers who formerly worked at Pioneer Studios, the Microsoft unit spearheading the Courier project, have resurfaced at FiftyThree (which takes its name from "the 53 centimeters that magically link head, heart and hand," according to the company's Web site. The team includes, according to the FiftyThree who's who page:

Georg Petschnigg: Co-founder of Pioneer Studios

Jon Harris: Designer who worked on Zune, Xbox and Pioneer Studios brands. Co-founder of the Courier project and of Pioneer Studios

Andrew Allen: Filmmmaker who worked on Courier

Julian Walker: Engineer who worked on graphics and user interface technologies for Microsoft Seadragon, Photosynth, Bing Maps and Silverlight

John Ikeda: Inventor who worked on Xbox accessories including the Xbox 360 game controller and Kinect Allard, former Microsoft Chief Experience Officer who left the company in 2010 (shortly after the Courier project was nixed), was the lead executive backer of Pioneer Studios. Allard has been advising and financially backing the development of Tapose, a Courier-like application for the iPad.

The Tapose team launched their app on the iPad on March 27. It is available for $2.99 in the iTunes store. Team members have said they are considering possibly doing a version of their app for Windows 8.

Microsoft, for its part, has put all its tablet eggs in the Windows 8 basket. The Office team has been working on an app that seemingly includes some ideas and concepts which mimic the Courier, codenamed Moorea. The Office 15 suite won't include a separate Moorea app, I've heard, though some of the marketing slogans bandied about by Moorea developers have shown up in Office 15 documentation.

Topics: Apps, CXO, Hardware, iPad, Microsoft, Mobility, IT Employment


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • mmm

    anyone else smell a law suite?
    • How so?

      Personally, I don't see how apps designed for a different platform and not having the same name as "Courier" are candidates for possible copyright infringement lawsuits. Besides, the hypothetical Courier slate was a dual screen folding hardware tablet concept while the iPad (or any Android slate that this team might develop for in the future) are, of course, single screen tablet designs.
      • Yes

        Microsoft paid for creation of those ideas by its staff. They can possibly sue ex-employees for using the ideas.
      • well

        I believe you will find there is a case, as they were paid by microsoft to develop this software, just like if i designed a database for my work, if they didnt use it, i then couldnt go and create the same database but for macs and sell it. As they could argue they paid for the research and development etc etc.
    • No.

    • MS should keep a close eye on this

      There was a lot of cheering in the Apple fanboi camp when Steve Jobs said he was going after Google because Google stole concepts and ideas while they had representation on Apple's board. Google never came out with an OS called iOS and yet Steve Jobs made it clear that he felt Google did wrong.

      So will there be any lawsuits? Who knows but it is clear that anyone telling you that this is okay also has to admit that it was totally okay for Google to sit on Apple's board and take ideas back to Google for eventual implementation in Android.
      • I agree.

        But, I have to ask, whom are you referring to that stated it was ok for a CEO of Google to sit on Apple's Board and then take ideas back to Google to be used in future Google products?

        BTW, if former employees of Microsoft did not sign any non-disclosure agreements during their time of employment with Microsoft or did not sign any "intellectual" rights agreement that stipulated any products created by said employees during their employment with MS belonged to Microsoft, than there really is no legal issue regarding the individuals and their iOS apps mentioned in MJF's blog.

        As far as I can tell, the "Courier" project was completely vaporware in the traditional sense. All that existed was a photoshop type concept video over a proposed software / hardware tablet concept. Again, as far as I know, no actual software code was created that performed in the real world on a real tablet.
      • I'll answer

        "whom are you referring to that stated it was ok for a CEO of Google to sit on Apple's Board and then take ideas back to Google to be used in future Google products?"

        You clearly misread. What I stated was that if anyone thought it was perfectly fine for people to work for 1 company and then take ideas over to another company then they really have nothing to complain about when Google does it to Apple. None of Apple's lawsuits have ever involved stolen code, only stolen ideas so it is totally and completely irrelevant that no code was ever written.

        On the other hand, anyone who is mad at Google for taking ideas from Apple must also be very upset, visibly upset, shaking with anger, that anyone dare steal MS's R&D so that another, unrelated company, can profit.

        Now we are all curious, how did you feel about Google borrowing ideas from Apple (not code, just the ideas)? How do you feel about these employees borrowing ideas from MS? I'll bet the answer to those 2 questions are totally different and you will then launch into a long explanation as to why stealing is okay when it is against MS but not okay when it is against Apple. I'll go grab my popcorn, this will be entertaining.
      • duplicate

        duplicate 1
      • duplicate

        duplicate 2
      • duplicate

        duplicate 3
      • Don't put to much butter on your popcorn, Todd.

        You pose an interesting straw man accusation. Whereas Oracle's lawsuit with Google involes using copyrighted Java code segments used in Android, Apple's proxy war with Google's partners involves copyrighted software constructs and/or copyrighted physical hardware attributes.

        The key to both legal issues involves prior copyrighted items.

        My stance is, and always will be, that any company can exercise their legal right to protect their copyrights. Are your opinions different on this issue?

        Your straw man argument involves borrowed ideas. If those "ideas", as you say, we're not copyrighted, I would have no issue with a free (or not free) exchange of ideas. As you are aware, Apple lost it's historic lawsuit with Microsoft over the "look and feel" issues of their OS GUI because Apple's GUI was not copyrighted completely - as some might say. (let's not bring Xerox into this. My whole point involves prior copyrights and nothing more - but nothing less.)

        As for the debate points that "look and feel" issues can be copyrighted or simple ideas without a physical product associated with those ideas can be copyrighted, this point has already been settled. They can.

        Again, as far as I can tell, Apple has only pursued legal action involving copyrighted issues. If you know of any legal action involving Apple against Google or Google's Android partners over non copyrighted ideas, please let me know.
      • Yummy popcorn

        I knew it. Thanks.

        PS Many of Apple's lawsuits are patent lawsuits where Apple is suing someone because they implemented something the same way Apple was going to implement something in some patent. No copyright. Sorry.

        As I said, thank for the entertaining read. I knew you would pull through for me.
      • Todd, please be specific

        Seriously, I would like to know the specific cases you are referring to.
      • You play a skilled debate game, Todd.

        But your last reply caused me to do a little research over word definitions.

        For example, the definitions of Copyrights and Patents. And our debate made me realize that I was erroneously using the two words interchangeably.

        A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work.
        A patent protects an invention.

        However, if a person or organization is awarded either a copyright or a patent, than that person or organization is afforded legal recourse in defense of that copyright or patent.

        You were right, Todd. Apple was defending it's awarded patents rather than "copyrights". I realize that this was almost a game of semantics that you were playing .. almost .. but in reality, it was a gentle reminder to me to be more precise with my words. I should have used the word patent instead of copyright in my remarks above.

        That being so, you still have not answered my chief question. Do you believe a Corporation (in this case Apple) should have the right to defend it's awarded patents against any other company or persons that it feels are infringing upon those patents? I continue to state that any company has that right and if a company does not patent a software construct (or invention, in the legal sense) than any other company may use that software construct for their products.
      • And being that Apple has NOTHING to do with this

        WTH are you going on about?
    • Who knows Microsoft better than its former employees?

      I would expect that all licensing issues have been taken care of.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Ideas

    One can use any idea unless its patented.
  • The Courier was never a "project"

    It certainly was never a prototype.
    It was a concept video, that's it. There was not even an empty physical mockup. Look at the damned video for crying out loud!!!
    It is animated CGI rendering of a nonexistent device. They didn't even use a real hand model, just drew a hand in white and used the equivalent of cell animation to make it "interact" with the SUPPOSED UI.
    And the UI? Ha. There was none. If you look at the entirety of the videos, you will see that there are overlapping constructs where the same action is used to perform different actions in the same context, and other inconsistencies that would not have actually been possible.
    The whole "project" was a vapourware joke from the beginning, that a lot of people fell for. Mary Jo Foley may remember me pointing this out years ago.
    This is still relevant here, as I think it pretty clear that MS never took this "project" seriously". it was only a hypothetical idea from an MS engineer, mostly on his spare time. It has been REPEATEDLY documented that "development" took place outside official MS development channels, and only involved a handful of MS engineers.
    MS even went on record that they did not, and never did, have ANY plans to manufacture the device.
    And yet so many of you fell for it.
  • Microsoft courier team makes App for Apple Ipads

    These people are not stupid I bet they already cut a deal with Microsoft to give them a cash kickback for the use of courier like apps they sell to apple or android customers and I bet they will make an APP for the Microsoft Windows 8 Tablets so look for a version on the windows 8 Tablets