Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) just beat Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). Again.

Trouble is, this win could be meaningless. CEO Steve Ballmer this week told the audience during his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show that his company had teamed with Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) to create a new tablet computer. And this comes just weeks ahead of the Mac maker's unveiling of its own tablet -- or iSlate, as most are now calling it.

Many Fools are expecting Apple's device to be a success, including my friend Rick Munarriz. I'm expecting good things as well. But HP and Microsoft remain undeterred. They think they'll be able to compete.

During his address, Ballmer demonstrated how the tablet's combination of Windows 7 and HP's touchscreen technology makes it easy to read e-books bought through Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle bookstore.

"This great little PC, which will be available later this year, I think many customers are going to be very, very excited about," Ballmer said.

Interestingly, it isn't the only one planned. Mr. Softy also has deals to power touch-sensitive tablets from two smaller companies, Pegatron and Archos.

"The emerging category of PCs really should take advantage of the touch and mobility and capabilities of Windows 7, and are perfect -- perfect for reading, for surfing the Web, and for taking entertainment on the go," Ballmer said.

Fair enough. Ballmer's demo showed off devices that do all these things and probably more. But compared to Courier, an intriguing dual-screen tablet that Mr. Softy touted last year, every one of them looks lightweight.

Ballmer said nothing about Courier during his CES keynote. Call it an opportunity missed.

The timing is right. Not only is Apple on the verge of showing us its tablet, but Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) also has the Nook, and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) has entered the retail end of the e-reader business. This is a nascent market eager for new offerings, and Apple won't be able to serve every need. No company can, but Microsoft could have come close.

With all the details Gizmodo posted about the device in September, Courier looked like a heavyweight, built to go head-to-head with Apple's best effort. The Next Thing, you might say. Instead, we got just another Old Thing. Another e-reader designed to work with Amazon's software.

Color me unimpressed. Mr. Softy can do better. Apple certainly will, when it officially introduces the iSlate later this month. But that's also just my take. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Please vote in the poll below. You can also leave a comment to explain your thinking or offer a different viewpoint.

Apple, Amazon, and Best Buy are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Microsoft and Best Buy are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool owns shares of Best Buy and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy would like to remind the CES revelers that lampshades are for lamps, not people.