Microsoft’s “infinite journal” concept is infinitely interesting

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I’m intrigued and inspired by Microsoft’s Courier booklet prototype. As much as I love my iPhone, I’ve yet to see an Apple tablet rumor that excites me. It’s clear that we all like multi-touch, but how does it make the leap from design necessity in small devices to genuine usefulness? Any device more expensive than a smartphone but lacking in portability will need compelling use cases beyond mere novelty.

Multi-touch in a giant, spendy media player? Meh. Multi-touch in a field research and ideation tool? Bingo.

Laser-etched laptopMany who attend my presentations will have seen my beloved Thinkpad X61 Tablet at my side, laser-etched with my logo. Ever since I gave Vista the boot and installed the Windows 7 Release Candidate, I’ve been enamored with this device.

But tablet PC lovers are truly the minority. Why? Tablets are most useful in only two scenarios:

  1. Visual art and design for sketching, painting and otherwise mimicking organic techniques difficult to accomplish with a mouse.
  2. Research and note-taking in the field, where the user is often required to stand or move while writing.

As huge and clunky as keyboards feel, typing is much faster than handwriting. As separated as mice feel from cursor movement, common actions like dragging and selection are much easier to manage when your fingers aren’t required to literally traverse the distance. For common PC actions at the core of Windows, Mac OS X and most Linux distributions, the keyboard and mouse are the best tools for the job.

The Courier prototype is beautiful because it acknowledges these faults and attempts to craft an experience catered to those two scenarios tablet owners enjoy already, with the added immediacy of multi-touch in addition to the typical stylus. While I question how intuitive some of the gestural interactions would be in use, the idea of a touchable infinite OneNote on crack is incredibly compelling. In short, it’s a tablet prototype I can see a business, artist or researcher investing in. I just hope they (or a competitor) can deliver.