Massucci's Take: Amazon may kick off a tablet PC race

In 2001, I reported on television about Motion Computing's new Tablet PC. It was billed as the PC of the future, and the future was then, they said.

Here we are eight years later, still using laptops with keyboards. How 1990s of us.

On Wednesday, Amazon (AMZN) is holding a press conference at Pace University in New York. It is set to unveil a Kindle on steroids.

(Called Alex Rodriguez. He had no comment.)

Looking into the future, a larger-sized Kindle with a more functional web browser may be first in a race to see which company can create a hot-selling, tablet-style personal computer.

Such a device would make it easier to read newspapers and magazines, maybe even viewing them in the layout we've come accustomed to over the years, including the ads. Being able to display ads will help drive innovation for future tablet devices. Remember, it's about the money.

Is the race on?

Take your laptop, rip off the keyboard and you'd have the new tablet PC. A keyboard would appear on the screen when needed, or Chiclet-sized keys would be built into the product, which would be the size of a sheet of paper. You could read the news or a book, make calls, watch movies, listen to music and, as long as you have access to the internet, do things you would do on a computer.

A bigger Kindle would be a step in that direction. Amazon is supposed to introduce a Kindle tomorrow with a 9.7-inch display, which is larger than the current six-inch screen. Also, reports indicate that other companies, including News Corp. (NWS), publisher Hearst and a well-financed start-up, Plastic Logic, are expected to make digital-newspaper readers by the end of 2009.

Amazon may not be racing against Apple (AAPL) or another player to create a widely-used tablet PC, but Kindle could become the leader by default. The dominant product or player in the tablet PC field has yet to be defined and Apple and Amazon have come the closest to putting a real-time updating media player in your hands.

There has been speculation that Apple could unveil a bigger version of it's touch-screen iPod Touch, which is a mini-version of a portable computer, this year.

As print newspapers and magazines begin to fade from our daily lives, they will likely be replaced by a PC-like product. Eventually it will be replaced by a softer plastic or cloth-like material that will refresh with news.

This isn't Harry Potter-fantasy stuff. It'll happen soon. At one time, computers took up an entire room. Now they fit in your pocket. It has taken time to get from there to here.

Imagine waiting for your bus and pulling out a thin-plastic newspaper. With little effort, the latest headlines appear on the screen. Of course, you can similarly see the news today with a newspaper. The only problem is the headlines are likely to be eight- to 12-hours old or more.

We expect to consume news as it happens. We scoff at yesterday's news. It's one of the main reasons why newspapers are dying off. It used to be fine for news to be written and edited, pieced together like a giant puzzle, sent to the printer, and then delivered to newsstands or your front door. Now, that process takes too long for many people, who want their news faster.

At Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A) annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 2, Warren Buffett said he would not buy most U.S. newspaper companies "at any price." Too much money is being lost, he said.

Money will be made by companies that capitalize on delivering the news to consumers on a portable device. Apple and Amazon are doing it. Others will quickly follow.

Who wins this digital news race remains to be seen. The daily news will be replaced by the minute news.

And you thought Dick Tracy would only be able to communicate via wrist-watch only on the comics page.

Anthony Massucci is a senior writer and columnist for DailyFinance.

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