You don't need superhuman precognition to know what will be big at next week's International Consumer Electronics Show: tablet computers. Companies have been rushing to catch Apple's iPad since it went on sale in April, and at CES 2011 tens of new tablet computers are expected to be launched.
"Clearly, the iPad was really the new Genesis for the tablet category, and I think what that product has shown is that it really resonates with consumers," said Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), in a recent interview. The CEA stages the International Consumer Electronics Show
Many of the tablets will be based on Google's Android operating system, which has already stolen a lead on Microsoft in the tablet space. Microsoft has yet to offer a dedicated tablet OS, although Steve Ballmer is tipped to show devices running its prototype tablet software during his keynote speech on Jan. 5.
Variety is much more likely to be found in the tablet hardware. Screen sizes could vary from around 6 inches up to 12 inches, and Japan's NEC has promised to show a dual-screen tablet.
Chip companies are also battling for a slice of the market with Intel competing with manufacturers of Arm-based chips, such as Freescale and Nvidia. Freescale says 23 tablets based on its chips will be at CES 2011 while Nvidia, a company best known for its graphics cards, expects many tablets based on its Tegra processor will be launched at the show.
"The Tegra business is about to go through some very exciting times," said Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder of Nvidia, in a recent interview. "We're going to have some very exciting announcements at CES."
The recent launch of 4G LTE cellular networks in the U.S. is expected to see the debut of smartphones that make use of the faster network technology. Verizon Wireless launched its network in December with the promise of downloads up to ten times faster than 3G, and recently said in a Twitter message that it would have 4G phones at CES.
Smartphones based on Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 operating system, which was launched in late 2010, are also expected to make headlines and be an important pillar of the software company's booth.
But there's way more to CES than tablets and phones.
3D televisions, a big item at CES 2010, will be back—although lackluster initial sales will perhaps bring the hype down a notch or two. Toshiba is planning to show its no-glasses 3D TV for the first time outside of Japan and LG is promising a monster 72-inch 3D television and portable models. 3D-compatible Blu-ray Disc players will also make an appearance.
E-Ink, which provides screens for most of the major e-book readers, recently unveiled its first color screen so devices packing the technology could be on show at CES.
"We expect to see a lot more evolution in the color e-reader camp, likely some color e-ink displays potentially on display," said the CEA's Koenig.
As in previous years the show is embracing the auto industry. Rupert Stadler, chairman of Audi, and Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford, will both deliver keynotes that are expected to touch upon high-tech auto innovations on the horizon. Chevrolet will be offering test drives of its all-electric Volt.
CES 2011 is expected to attract around 120,000 people to Las Vegas, according to an estimate from the organizer. That puts attendance halfway between the 126,641 people that attended the 2010 show and the 113,085 that turned up for CES 2009.
Around 2500 companies, just under half from overseas, will be exhibiting at the show. CES takes place from Jan. 6 to 9, with many of the biggest announcements taking place a day before the show begins on Jan. 5 at numerous news conferences.