Jun 302010

Microsoft sure is getting good at killing products. Last month it was the non-product Courier, which got some significant starring roles in animations that were leaked to the tech press around the time of the iPad’s launch.

This month Redmond is putting its recently-released Kin phones out to pasture – less than 2 months after a marketing blitz of a release that featured impeccably-dressed angsty tweens and continued a Microsoft tradition of top-notch advertising. The company says it will integrate the Kin group, led by Sidekick data-killer Roz Ho, with the Windows Phone Series 7 Series Phone Thingy team.

It’s refreshing to see Microsoft being able to pull the plug not just on products they had no intention of releasing anyway, but on things that actually ship. This level of discipline and self-awareness bodes well for them, even if the 48 day flameout of a major product line is – how can one put this gently – a fucking abomination? If realizing no one wants your consumer electronics offerings is the prerequisite for getting axed, one wonders if Microsoft will even have a Entertainment and Devices division in the near term.

Apr 132010

The Courier

As buzz was building to a crescendo about the Apple tablet that will eventually become the iPad, other me-too tablet announcements begin to trickle in. Not willing to let a superior product out of the gates before performing the trick they made famous, Microsoft begins “leaking” concept videos of a stylus-driven, dual-screen touchscreen tablet. You see, M$ has more than one vaporware tactic. Sometimes they’ll make a big announcement at a consumer electronics show a year and a half before their real product is slated to ship. Sometimes their corporate security periodically disintegrates, “revealing” products to eager tech sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, who unwittingly post their “scoops” while Microsoft laughs at the continued gullibility of tech media.

At companies that make real products, a leak like Courier would set off a nuclear device in the boardroom. Letting competition know the form factor, features or technology present in your forthcoming devices is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately for Microsoft, when these “leaks” hit the tech landscape, they usually don’t represent a design worth copying, don’t reveal any technical details about the product, and are immediately recognized by potential competitors for what they are. Much like the Wizard of Oz, the awesomeness of the apparition belies the nothingness of the reality.  So here’s what we “know” about the Courier:

September, 2009: Microsoft “leaks” an animated concept video of a tablet device known as Courier to Engadget. Despite the “concept” not having specs, price, OS, or release date (wouldn’t want to kill the enthusiasm with all that), the incredibly detailed animation, spanning 1:55, inspires commenter cries of “Microsoft is back!”, which I took as an incomplete blurt that ends something like “…to creating representations for which no actual product is intended”, since that is clearly their strength.

November 2009: A video detailing the Courier’s user interface is “leaked” to Gizmodo (hey, the wealth must be shared), because the more detailed the non-product, the more effective the “stopping power”. Engadget uses the curious term “advanced proof of concept”, which is usually reserved for products that “can be built” as opposed to those that “can be drawn”. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t seem to realize that no one buys their particular shovelful of bullshit anymore – except commenters on tech websites. A “Highest Ranked” comment on Engadget reads: “This isn’t a laptop without a keyboard, it’s a new device designed from the ground up to be controlled with a pen and multitouch gestures.” That one cost TMA a mouthful of coffee and almost a wireless keyboard. Engadget follows up with Steve Ballmer and pointedly asks about the device. His response, according to Engadget, is that “he swears he hasn’t actually seen it, but that it sounds like it’s something someone should make”.  Readers are left to decide for themselves whether the CEO of the company can really be so out of touch with its groundbreaking products or if the comment was just a really retarded attempt at coyness.

March 2010: Another Courier video is “leaked” to Engadget, showing how the device’s…animation…has evolved. Amazingly, even though 6 months have passed since the previous animation (which one might assume would go into the development of an actual product), the same absolute lack of details remain.

April 2010: Apple releases the iPad to extremely positive reviews. Despite being released on a Saturday, sales figures for the weekend top those of the original iPhone, indicating once again that in a market where people exchange money for actual products, Apple reigns supreme.

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