The e-reader battle has barely begun, and already you think Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) in-development Courier tablet will be the loser? Geez, you people are harsh. And I'm saying this as a Mac guy.

Well, OK, no one has actually called Courier a loser of a device, but aren't we all talking as if Apple's iTablet is already the Next Big Thing? (I know I have.) Aren't we discounting Microsoft's entry in the process? I'd say so.

Let's take stock before we pronounce the Courier DOA. We know that:

  • Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) hasn't yet released a tablet PC. We're expecting great things from Cupertino because, frankly, that's what we always expect. Also, we have reports that CEO Steve Jobs is personally involved in developing the Mac maker's version of the tablet PC.
  • Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) partially entered the market with its DreamScreen line two weeks ago, with prices beginning at $249 for the 10-inch Wi-Fi model. The downside? Most of the content you'll stream is what's already present on your home network.
  • Borders sells Sony's (NYSE:SNE) e-reader, and Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) is selling e-books for most mobile devices, including the iPhone, iPod Touch, and BlackBerry.
  • Barnes & Noble will join Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) in selling the touchscreeen iRex DR800SG, which sports a 3G wireless radio tuned to Verizon's wireless network for downloading digital books and other goodies.
  • (NASDAQ:AMZN) leads them all with its Kindle e-book reader and the more newspaper-friendly Kindle DX.

So yes, there's a lot of competition for the Courier and every other e-reader. This is a nascent industry that's only just begun to take shape. And yet, looking at the early reports, I think there's a lot to like about what Microsoft has planned.

Courier will be a dual-screen, full-color tablet, according to specs published by gadget blogger Gizmodo. Users will have the choice of entering data via touch or pen. Over time, touch typists may be able to position their hands on Courier's screen and watch virtual keys form around them. (Mr. Softy recently filed a patent for touchscreen keyboard technology, Gizmodo reports.) Pretty cool, eh?

I'll understand if you're skeptical. Microsoft's J. Allard is leading this project, and his last effort, the Zune, has proven to be a technical success but a commercial failure. (Thus far, anyway.)

Courier could follow the same pattern. But it's just as likely that this tablet will be Mr. Softy's next Xbox, also an Allard project. And remember: Bill Gates was talking tablet PCs long before the rest of the world thought they were cool. Microsoft was made for this market.

Count out Courier, investors, and it may cost you.

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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 is a big Rodney Dangerfield fan.