What scared Microsoft into scrapping a secret tablet project?

Microsoft has reportedly pulled the plug on the Courier tablet that had been in the works, but gave no reasons.

Microsoft has reportedly pulled the plug on Courier, the folding tablet/booklet device that was reportedly in "late prototype" last fall but was never launched - or acknowledged, for that matter, according to Gizmodo. Citing "sources familiar with the matter," the site reported that CEO Steve Ballmer informed the internal team that the project would no longer be supported.

Obviously, Microsoft isn't giving up any details about why it pulled the plug. But Gizmodo did post a statement from the company. In a nutshell, Microsoft is always exploring and testing new products and technologies and the Courier project was one of those. While it will be "evaluated in for use in future offerings" there are no plans to build such a device right now, the company said. Gizmodo first reported on the "Secret Tablet" in September (see image).

That's probably a good call for Microsoft, given the arrival of the iPad and the buzz around others in the works, including the HP Slate. Apple's must-have device has put a high bar in place for tablet computing and anything below that bar was destined to be the butt of jokes. C'mon, was Microsoft really going to launch something cooler and hipper than the iPad?

It also gives Microsoft some time to sit back and watch to see how consumers and verticals - like education and health care - do and don't like in their tablet offerings. It's times like this when it's important to remember that the iPod wasn't the first mp3 player to hit the market.

I hope Microsoft is instead putting all of its "mobile" resources into the launch of Windows Phone 7. The smartphone war is in full swing, especially now that HP is ready to start putting its strength behind Palm. Apple has a huge head start with the iPhone, Google is on Apple's tail with a lineup of Android devices and carrier partners, RIM is gearing up for a new Blackberry OS of its own and don't forget Symbian, which is also gearing up for a later-this-year smartphone OS update.

If Microsoft wants to be a contender, it needs to hone in on getting that mobile OS released - pronto!