Usually, copycats get to work after Apple releases a product. This time, the hype surrounding Apple's upcoming tablet has been so intense that, according to the New York Times' Bits blog, Microsoft and HP will attempt to upstage Apple with a tablet of their own later today.
Quoting "people familiar with Microsoft's plans," the blog says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer himself will take the stage and "unveil a novel take on a slate-type computer" at this evening's Consumer Electronics Show keynote. The device will be made by HP, will be "touted as a multimedia whiz with e-reader and multi-touch functions," and may become available by the middle of this year.
That would be a bold move for both Microsoft and HP. The latest whispers from the rumor mill suggest Apple will announce its own tablet just three weeks from now, on January 27. The Wall Street Journal recently predicted that the Apple tablet will hit stores in March, too, so Apple could still be the first to market.
The Times hints that the Microsoft-HP device might be related to that Courier prototype we saw last September. The Courier placed two 7" multi-touch displays side by side in a booklet format, and it featured a novel (and snazzy-looking) touch interface as well as pen input.