Microsoft Group Leaves to Create Hit Tablet App — for Apple’s iPad

Image courtesy of FiftyThree

Paper has been the most-downloaded iPad app since its launch last week.

A tablet app born out of a project at Microsoft became an instant hit when it debuted last week. Too bad for the software giant, Microsoft had nothing to do with it.

The app, called Paper, has been the most downloaded iPad app since its launch on Friday. It’s also No. 3 on the list of top-grossing apps, behind Angry Birds Space HD and Quickoffice Pro.

Paper was co-founded by Georg Petschnigg, who worked at Microsoft for 11 years. He led development on a project called Courier. That was Microsoft’s code name for a touchscreen computer that folds like a book. Courier was regularly in the news in 2009 and 2010 because of leaked videos and screenshots that were received favorably. Concept videos showed a touchscreen operating system that worked with fingers or a pen, allowing users to clip Web pages by outlining images or create to-do lists from handwritten notes.

Then Microsoft said in April 2010, just weeks after Apple released the iPad, that it would not build Courier.

Today, five of the folks who worked on Courier are at FiftyThree, the New York-based startup that makes Paper. The six-person, year-old company doesn’t have any outside investors, not even Microsoft, Petschnigg said.

“You’re starting to see new consumers emerge and new problems,” he said. “It doesn’t always make sense for a large corporation to go after those customers.”

A spokeswoman for Microsoft declined to comment on FiftyThree, but said in a statement that the Redmond, Washington-based company “is always looking at new ideas, and testing and incubating them, and Courier was an example of this.”

Petschnigg, FiftyThree’s CEO, dresses like a Microsoft executive but speaks in the grandiose style more typical of the Apple faithful. ”We think productivity should be beautiful,” he said.

When asked about Courier, Petschnigg referenced an Oscar-winning comedy that starred Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell.

“In ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ the quest failed,” but the experience was rewarding, he said. ”Sometimes projects don’t work out. That’s the name of the game, but that’s the path. We have to look forward.”

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