SAN FRANCISCO: Sleeker, smarter mobile phones, tablets, and netbooks will be stars at next week's premier Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, as firms bring out their latest gadgets to court the Internet crowd.
While this year's CES will be smaller due to the global economic crisis, 110,000 people are registered to attend and the number of first-time exhibitors tops 330 for the first time.
A Google "Nexus One" smart phone based on Android software is likely to ignite CES buzz even though the device is to debut at the Internet giant's headquarters in California two days before CES starts Thursday.
CES goers are eager to see whether the Google branded phone lives up to expectations in a scenario reminiscent of the Palm Pre launch at the annual electronics show last year.
"All eyes are on the Nexus One," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.
"The other thing of course is the tablets. A wave of Android tablets will be hitting at CES, and it looks like Apple's is coming at the end of the month."
A tablet computer to be launched at CES by India-based Notion Inc. is generating the most interest due to attributes such as paper-like screen graphics for easy reading outdoors and full-color resolution.
By waiting a few more weeks to launch a tablet, Apple will be able to assess how competitors position themselves in the market and adapt its strategy accordingly.
Electronic books, or e-books, will also be rolled out in abundance at CES.
Industry tracker Forrester Research predicts that six million e-readers will be sold in the United States alone in 2010, doubling the number bought in the country the prior year.
An eagerly-awaited QUE e-reader by Plastic Logic will premier Thursday in an invitation-only press conference slated prior to the opening of the show floor.
"We are going to be awash in e-books," Enderle said. "The contrast between tablets and e-books is going to be pronounced."
Lightweight, bare-bones laptops referred to as netbooks or "ultraportables" will also be a rage at CES as computer makers debut offerings tailored for a market that has boomed during hard times.
Making devices ranging from flat-screen televisions to cars or home thermostats "smart" with computer chips and links to the Internet will gain momentum at CES.
Powerhouses behind huge but ever-thinning televisions that are a hallmark of CES will tout online capabilities along with rich graphics prime for viewing films in high-definition or Blu-ray formats.
"You will see the TV set become more than just a simple TV set and the Blu-ray player more than a Blu-ray player," predicted Dolby consumer technology marketing director Craig Eggers.
"Last year saw Yahoo! widgets on TV sets. More television makers are installing devices to stream YouTube, CinemaNow, and other online video on TV."
Dolby, which is planning CES announcements of its own, is intent on making sure audio richness on devices does justice to eye-popping graphics.
Television screens with improved 3D capabilities will be "big stuff" at CES and there is a rumor that the first US 3D television station will launch during CES, according to Enderle.
Microsoft and Yahoo! are among Internet titans that will be announcing innovations or alliances at CES.
The Consumer Electronics Association has beefed up the size of a videogame gear zone and an iLounge devoted to software and accessories for Apple iPhones, iPods and Macintosh computers.
Speakers include Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer; Nokia head Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo; Ford president Alan Mulally; Intel leader Paul Otellini; Qualcomm boss Paul Jacobs, and Hisense chairman Zhou Houjian.
Analysts also expect the automotive zone at CES to hold intriguing innovations, with Internet networking and television being further integrated into cars and trucks.
"The final thing is that 4G is expected to start showing up hard at CES," Enderle said, referring to the coming iteration of wireless broadband Internet technology.
"It is kind of the holy grail of next-generation wireless: more bandwidth, lower price and overall better experience."
CES routinely includes surprise visits by celebrities as well as a chance for people in the industry to fire policy questions at the head of the US Federal Communications Commission.