When the first netbooks arrived in the United States, most of us probably thought they were toys. The Asus Eee made with white plastic looked like a toy laptop. I don't think anyone really took it seriously. However, when HP, Lenovo, and other major manufacturers started selling professional netbooks, then the world jumped on this trend because now you could have a super-light, super-compact notebook for $300-400 and take this as your travel companion.
Will the digital slate (or digital pad) replace the netbook trend? People are still too dependent on keyboards. That's the problem. Once we get more accustomed to touch-based computing and voice recognition, then I think we'll see a shift away from keyboard-based computers. Right now, the majority of ultra-compact mobile devices are not capable of robust voice recognition or text-to-speech capabilities. As a result, we're not seeing a huge movement towards voice-based computing. I think that's going to be the next major phenomenon after touch-based computing. Once we're comfortable with touch (and multi-touch gestures), then we'll adapt voice computing.
In order for voice computing to become a mainstream reality, we need mobile computers that have very fast processors but that are also highly energy-efficient. Right now, we're still playing the balancing game where we often give up performance to gain battery life.
So, although devices like the Apple iPad and slates running Android or webOS will be extremely popular, we're still going to see the majority of people still hanging on to their keyboards. That's OK for now. Most of these slates will connect to a keyboard, but soon those keyboards will truly become obsolete.