The annual Consumer Electronics Show kicks off here on Thursday but the hottest device around, and the trailblazing company that makes it, won't be on the sprawling show floor.
Apple, whose iPad touchscreen tablet computer was the hit new gadget of last year, is once again shunning the electronics extravaganza that attracts tens of thousands of buyers and sellers from around the world to the Las Vegas strip.
Apple may be a no-show but the Cupertino, California-based company behind the iPod, iPhone and iPad and its iconic co-founder Steve Jobs will loom large over the four-day event at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
"Right now, in the consumer electronics space, Apple is the shining star that everyone and their brother are chasing," said Silicon Valley technology analyst Rob Enderle.
And what rival firms have in their sights is the iPad, which sold more than eight million units between April, when it landed in US stores, and the end of September, Apple's last reporting period.
Goldman Sachs predicts iPad sales could top 37.2 million units in 2011 and technology research firm Gartner forecasts total tablet computer sales of 55 million units this year.
"There's a tremendous buzz about tablets," said Tara Dunion of CES organizer the Consumer Electronics Association.
"I've seen at least 40 new tablets announced and we're estimating there could be up to 80 new tablets launched at CES," Dunion said.
"I don't think you'll be able to walk 10 feet on the show floor without seeing some kind of a tablet device," said analyst Stephen Baker of the NPD Group.
South Korea's Samsung and US computer giants Hewlett-Packard and Dell are among the technology titans which have already come out with tablet devices.
Samsung launched its Galaxy Tab, which is powered by Google's Android software, in November and has reported sales of over one million units.
Smaller than the iPad, the Galaxy Tab features a seven-inch (18-centimeter) touchscreen compared with the iPad's 9.7-inch (24.6-cm) display.
The Galaxy Tab has front- and rear-facing cameras for video chat - a feature absent from the first generation of the iPad - and can also play Adobe's Flash video software, which is banned from the Apple device.
HP unveiled its HP Slate 500, which runs Microsoft's Windows 7 computer operating system and is aimed more at professionals than consumers, in October and Dell began selling its tablet computer, the Streak, in June.
Canada's Research In Motion, maker of the Blackberry, is also planning its own touchscreen tablet computer this year, the PlayBook, aiming it at business users like HP.
At last year's CES, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer showed off Windows-powered tablet prototypes but the US software giant has been slow to get the products to market.
Ballmer is scheduled to give a keynote speech Wednesday on the eve of the CES opening and NPD Group's Baker said he expects the Microsoft chief to unveil his latest plans for Windows-based tablets.
Toshiba and Motorola are among the other household names which are expected to unveil tablet computers at CES and there will be scores of others - most of which are unlikely to keep Apple's Jobs up at night.
"We are going to be up to our armpits in crappy tablets, and I do mean crappy," said Enderle.Reuse content