isnt the ipad a knockoff in itself?
The amount of knockoffs available in 1 year is amazing.
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the tablet isn't a new idea and it certainly isn't a steve job creation. MS screwed it up by thinking that using a desktop operating system for something designed for your fingers was anything less than painful. Apple's innovation here was to slap iOS on hardware that's essentially been around for a decade or more. Doing so made tablet's actually appealing which prompted other OEMs to start investing in this market.
Some speculate that tablets will consume the netbook market. I tend to disagree. Typing anything of substance (like while chatting, posting in forums, writing emails), is nothing less than painful on anything but a real keyboard. For reading things and browsing the web, tablets are awesome.
I do believe laptops and netbooks will eventually all have touchscreens. Touchscreens are just so natural and touch interfaces are much more intuitive.
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I have and have had tablet pcs and now the iPads. I don't think typing (or using handwriting recognition) on them is that bad at all. For the things you say (chatting, forum posting, emails), the iPad is more than good enough and for me better than a netbook.
For anything more serious, just a full size keyboard will do in any case.