Industry experts predict that e-readers will be the holiday season's hottest gadget gift, but tech bloggers have already moved onto the next big thing: Tablet computers. The excitement over the laptop's slimmer, slinkier, sexier cousins reached new heights over the past week, with news that Popular Mechanics magazine named the CrunchPad tablet computer one of the 10 Most Brilliant Products of 2009, crediting its creator, TechCrunch blog founder Michael Arrington, with taking a lead in the industry. However, as bloggers were quick to note, the long-in-development CrunchPad has no release date, putting it nearer to the fantasy realm occupied by Apple's Tablet than any of the other breakthrough products on the list. Why are tablets so interesting, especially unreleased ones? Here are the recent perspectives:

  • Journalism's Messiah "If the iPhone is the 'Jesus phone,' it now appears as if the still-sheathed Apple tablet may become the 'Jesus reader'...The oft-discussed (but never confirmed) tablet, you see, is poised to save us -- the humble scribes of print media -- from an unseemly demise." pronounced PC World's JR Raphael, only half-kidding. Newsweek's Daniel Lyons took a more sincere approach. The coming proliferation of tablets, he says "will enable us (and force us) to rethink media. What is a newspaper? What is a book? What is a movie? What is entertainment? Somewhere out there, the Orson Welles of the digital age is in grade school, or maybe high school. Soon he or she will be inventing a new language for telling stories. I can't wait to see what it looks like."
  • Financial Analysts Believe In Them At Daily Finance, Lauren Cooper reports that shares of "Foxconn, rumored maker of Apple's tablet reader, [are] soar[ing] in Hong Kong," suggesting investors find real potential in the device. Writing for Townhall, Motley Fool contributor Time Beyers analyzes the market for netbooks-- ultra-small, ultra-light laptops-- and finds that average selling price is plummeting. He thinks this can only be good for would-be tablet p.c. manufacturers, as tablets "are more likely to be a home for the sort of value-added, downloadable software you'll find in the iTunes App Store and its peers." By contrast, "Creating app store demand among netbook users would require conditioning netbook users to think of their systems more as souped-up smartphones than lightweight PCs. Tablets won't face this problem."
  • The E-Reader Is No Slam Dunk Paid Content writer Jack McKeown makes the case that the hysteria over e-readers is overblown and belies the fact that tablets are on the way. "Upcoming tablet PCs from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), both likely to contain robust e-reader functions, will further fragment the market."
  • The Time is Ripe  Last month, PC Magazine's Lance Ulanoff offered 10 reasons why he thinks tablet PCs will succeed. He takes readers through a bit of early tablet history, when the devices first launched with embarrassingly weak technical specs. Ulanoff is confident that the new tablets from Apple, Microsoft, and yes, TechCrunch have done away with the previous generations' mistakes, that they can capitalize on the previously unimaginable speed of the modern internet, and will thus receive a much better reception from the public: "It'll only be the first wave, and there will likely be significant differences among these few products. However, they'll all share some common features: thin, easy-to-carry form factors, ubiquitous connectivity, light, lean interfaces, brilliant color screens, and gesture-based computing. They'll generate more excitement than any pen- or tablet-based computer ever did. And tablets will take their rightful place in the computing pantheon."
  • But What Are They Good For? ask several loud skeptics. A thorough report on the tablet phenomena by the New York Times holds up the iPhone app-store as one example of how successful tablet computers could be. At the same time, the reporters note that the iPhone and its various imitators could also prove to be the tablets greatest adversaries: "Despite the preponderance of apps, there is still the persistent question of whether regular people will really find a use for tablet computers. Smaller cellphones are increasingly multipurpose and fit nicely in a jacket pocket." Prolific blogger Dragos on SoftSailor is on the same page, writing: "I know why do I need my computer. I know what I can do with my laptop. I know how to use my smartphone. We all know what we can do with a PSP or with a Blu-ray player. Let's not forget about the iPod Touch or the Zune portable media players. If you like to take pictures then you should buy a camera...What can you do with a gigantic IPhone?"