Stephen Foley: Rivals rush to meet demand for netbooks

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The Independent Online

US Outlook: Those "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" adverts still sting. It is almost a whole decade since Bill Gates of Microsoft was proclaiming that we would all soon be carrying around tablet computers on which to write and surf the internet – and of course we finally soon will, but only because Apple is about to launch a cool one.

The Apple faithful are beside themselves over rumours that Steve Jobs, the company's genius-in-residence, is putting the finishing touches to a tablet device that might – or might not – combine the touchscreen technology of the company's iPhone with some of the functions of its MacBook personal computers.

Apple's rivals are not waiting to find out, and we are seeing already the opening skirmishes of a new technology war, as companies compete for territory in a whole new category of mid-size portable devices. Nokia, the smartphone maker, is going into the personal computer market. Dell has been expanding its range of netbooks, as have its competitors.

All this activity contributed to an unexpected increase in earnings guidance from Intel, the chipmaker, which has launched products specifically designed to power the new generation of netbooks.

Manufacturers are already predicting that consumers will come gingerly from their shells as the economy improves. Investors, meanwhile, have bid up technology stocks on the basis that sales bottomed out earlier this year. But there seems more to come from this rally, as firms ramp up their advertising ahead of the holidays. With prices at half the level of a typical PC, netbooks and tablet PCs can do for consumer technology spending what the "cash for clunkers" subsidies have done for car sales.