The Courier was going to be Microsoft’s answer to the iPad, but what was most exciting about it was that the device wasn’t another iPad clone.
It was going to feature two screens and a stylus. So unlike the iPad, which seemed perfect for media consumption (but a bit difficult to really get work done on), the Courier had a level of creative potential. Maybe it still couldn’t replace a PC, but by creating a digital Moleskine that’s Internet-connected, the Courier could have been the ultimate casual creation machine.
When the Courier was canceled (to make room for Windows 8 tablets and a more unified Microsoft product lineup), there was legitimate disappointment from the media and fans alike. But there was also hope. Two teams, each formerly associated with development of the Courier, would be working on creative iPad apps. And each competitive project would be released in the same week.
One was Paper, which we introduced yesterday. The other, and definitely more Courier-like of the two, was actually funded by the head of the Courier project, J. Allard, along with a confident Kickstarter campaign that promised to recreate the Courier on iPads.
It’s called Taposé. And from the screenshots, it looks like the iPad is running a rough port of Courier software. But when you actually work in the app for a while, you realize that, whatever the Courier may have been, Taposé falls short. In fact, Taposé is so set on being the Courier, that it fails to properly actualize on the iPad.
Taposé’s most immediate trademark is inherited directly from Courier. Everything is set up in a two-page design, like a book. The thesis is clear: People develop content better when they have two pages to work with.
But why do we need to see two pages, trapped in a book’s binder?
The app’s piece de resistance is a side toolbar. It holds tools, sure, but if you drag the toolbar over, it reveals a whole other hidden page of content—like your Safari browser—allowing you to cut and screengrab webpages without ever leaving your project. It’s an incredibly powerful idea. In fact, it’s so flexible—dragging a bar over to reveal a whole second screen—that it can entirely replace this oft-awkward two-page book layout altogether. And it should. Just give me a clean canvas on which to work. I’ll take care of the rest.
But Taposé is so stubbornly set on this book metaphor that it eventually stifles core functionality. For instance, when you turn the iPad to portrait mode, you can edit a single page using the entire screen. Though when you want to turn the page, you’ll need to flip from the top right or the left corner, depending whether the page appeared on the left or right in landscape mode. (You can also apparently two-finger swipe to bypass this restriction.) Confused? I am too.
The book metaphor commits the entire UI to major design restrictions that serve no one. Using a series of writing tools—including a pencil, a highlighter, a tool for typing, a sticky note—you can make notes pretty much in the way of your choosing. But unlike Paper, none of these options is particularly beautiful. Taposé is lacking the smoothing algorithms that make finger writing and drawing on a tablet reasonable, so you’ll quickly default to entering text by typing, and whenever you find yourself typing on a tablet screen, the Moleskine metaphor has pretty much died.
And, while I may be mistaken, Taposé isn’t using the dual screens to nearly the extent teased in its own product videos, incorporating options beyond Safari like Google Maps and Contacts. (Then again, it might be a launch bug. I might just be missing it within the UI, too. And I’ve looked, a lot.)
The Courier pulled up webpages, address books, and image galleries on one screen, allowing you to drag the content to the next. It was a means of multitasking without ever leaving the overall frame of your project. Taposé attempts some of these feats, but masters none (surely, at least in part because of Apple’s limited APIs). But the why doesn’t really matter to the end user, whether it’s an API restriction getting in the way, or more often, bumbly UI and lagging processing hiccups. There’s nothing seamless about accessing outside multimedia. And that was the whole promise of the Courier.
Now I’m being hard on Taposé. After all, we’re talking about a $3 app (just $3! for now at least) built by a small team. And again, this is an app, not a fully developed OS from one of the top software companies in the world. But it just feels like, if I could squeeze together the UI finesse of Paper and the multipane multitasking functionality of Taposé, I’d use that transformative, content-creative software in a heartbeat. It would look like an iPad, sure, but it would look like an iPad that, you know, someone could actually design the next iPad on.