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Details of computer tablet emerge, but is it real?

The device shown in a Web video and code-named Courier is reportedly from Microsoft. The company neither confirms nor denies the product's existence.

September 24, 2009|David Colker

At long last, details about a super-secret computer tablet have emerged, complete with pictures and even a video showing how it works.

But it's not the long-awaited tablet that Apple Inc. has been rumored to be developing. This prototype reportedly comes from deep inside Apple's archrival, Microsoft Corp., where its development has supposedly been so blanketed in secrecy that many high-ranking company executives didn't know it existed.

If it's real, that is. The device, code-named Courier, showed up on the popular technology blog Gizmodo.com under the headline "First Details of Microsoft's Secret Tablet."

Microsoft neither confirmed nor denied its existence. "We do not comment on unreleased products," company spokesman Doug Free said.

He wouldn't even say whether Microsoft was working on a tablet, which is a type of computer on which information can be input by touching fingers and/or a stylus directly to the screen.

"There are a broad range of products always underway," Free said, none of which he would describe.

If the tablet unearthed by Gizmodo is a fake, it's certainly an elaborate one. And its features have sparked a lot of buzz in the personal computer world.

"If it is a hoax, they should look into making it real," said analyst Allan Krans of Technology Business Research Inc. "It looks like a cross between the Kindle, iPhone and a tablet."

According to a video on Gizmodo.com, the slim Courier opens like a school notebook to reveal side-by-side seven-inch screens.

The two-minute demonstration video on Gizmodo starts off with a furniture designer bringing her address book up on the left screen and a city map on the right. With the flick of a finger (shown in animation) she quickly moves an address of an upcoming meeting onto the map, which reconfigures to show her the exact location.

She then uses the screens to organize photos of samples and other materials for the meeting, and with a stylus she writes notes on what she has found. Everything is done with fingers or stylus -- no keyboard is shown.

Handwriting recognition is not shown in the video, but Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system, which goes on sale next month, reportedly has handwriting recognition features.

Several tablet computers have come out in the last several years, but none has caught on in a big way. Krans said they were too bulky.

"The technology did not exist to make them as slim or portable as necessary," he said.

If Courier is authentic, there's of course no word on when it might come out. Apple is keeping its supposed tablet under wraps too -- widely circulated rumors say it will debut in February. Of course, just a few weeks ago there were rumors it would be revealed this month.

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david.colker@latimes.com

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