It's that time of year again, when gearheads and gadget hounds start salivating.
The world's largest technology trade show, the annual Consumer Electronics Show, is only a week away, and with it comes chatter of tech trends expected to take off in 2010.
Hundreds of tech companies -- from major players to the minor leaguers -- will showcase their wares at CES next week. And more will flood the market with gadgets galore in the following months. But the themes of the year are already taking shape.
One of the big buzz words? Convergence.
"A big over-arching theme ... is the idea that more and more things are being connected," said Charles Golvin, a senior analyst with Forrester Research.
He acknowledged that this trend is not new, but emphasized that it's gaining traction. We might already have connectivity in the living room, with gaming consoles and video players that link up with the Internet. But, he said, that capability is swiftly moving into cars and on to all kinds of handheld devices.
Will Apple's Mysterious Tablet Finally Emerge?
One of the gadget world's most hotly anticipated hyper-connected devices is a multimedia tablet expected to come from Apple. For the past few months, tech blogs have devoted pages to an iPhone-on-steroids-like device that would let users watch video, surf the Web and comfortably read text.
Apple has yet to confirm the existence of the device, rumored to be named iSlate or iGuide, but technophiles speculate that Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself could tease the tablet at a company event as early as late January.
But even if Apple doesn't unveil a tablet anytime soon, analysts and industry watchers say others will.
Earlier this month, tech blog Slash Gear leaked specs for a multimedia tablet it expects product development firm Notion Ink to launch at CES. According to Slash Gear, the device (rumored to be named Adam) measures 6.3 x 9.8 x 0.6 inches and weighs in at 1.7 lbs.
The screen can be viewed indoors like a color LCD, or brought outside (like Amazon's Kindle e-book reader) with a grayscale mode. Other manufacturers, such as Dell and Lenovo, are also rumored to have tablets up their sleeves.
Rob Enderle, an independent technology consultant, said both Adam and the mysterious Apple tablet are designed to be convergence devices.
Convergence Reigns as Consumers Reach for the All-in-One
"Take a bunch of things -- the iPod, portable DVD players and an operating system -- and ram them together into one device," he said.
But he said convergence will come in varying shapes and sizes.
The e-book reader was a success story of 2009, but Enderle expects growth in the category to continue in 2010.
"Clearly e-books are one of the major trends we carry into the new year," he said.
Sony's Reader and Amazon's Kindle were the first to attract consumers, but Barnes & Noble, which launched the Nook this year, is expected to launch another in 2010, Enderle said.
Earlier this month, publishing company Hearst unveiled its own e-reader, Skiff, which will drop next year and distribute mostly newspaper and magazine articles.
Qualcomm is also expected to enter the market with an e-reader equipped to play color video.
Google's Rumored Nexus One Could Drop Next Week
And, of course, Google is expected to make a splash in 2010.
For weeks, tech blogs have been leaking details about what they believe will be the tech giant's newest phone -- the Nexus One.
And Tuesday, Google boosted expectations with an invitation-only press event scheduled for next week at the company's Mountain View, Calif. headquarters. According to the invitation, the event (scheduled a thunder-stealing two days before the start of CES) is an "Android press gathering."
Google has maintained an Apple-like silence on matters related to the phone, but industry watchers expect it to run on Google's Android operating system and feature a high-resolution touchscreen, 5 mega-pixel camera, Wi-Fi connectivity, compass and more.
One of the phone's most interesting features, however, is that it will be sold directly from Google without the typical long-term telecom carrier contract.
But even aside from the Nexus One, tech bloggers and analysts say 2010 will be a banner year for Google and its Android operating system.
"[Google] has two flagship products -- the Droid and now this," said the blogger behind the popular tech blog Boy Genius Report, who asked to be referred to as "BG." "I really see Android as being big this year, if anything as an alternative to the iPhone."
Android Expected to Flourish in 2010
Just a year ago, T-Mobile's G1 "Google phone" was the only phone on the market to run on the Android operating system. But in the past year, a handful of other smart phones have come on the scene, including the recent Droid from Verizon and Motorola.
And analysts expect more than 50 new phones with Google's Android operating system to ship next year. Netbooks and other devices are also expected to increasingly run on Android.
But BG said he expects significant activity in the mobile market in general.
Between about 15 phones expected to come from Research in Motion (which makes the BlackBerry), the steady stream of Android phones and a new and improved Windows mobile operating system, he said the field was shaping up to be an interesting one in 2010.
"Next year, there will be a huge push for 3D," said Enderle, adding that it's the biggest technological innovation in television since color.
But, he added, given the cost of the technology, consumer reluctance to replace current TVs and, of course, the glasses, the adoption won't be fast.
"We might call this the 3D decade instead of the 3D year," he said. "But the content is increasingly going to be there."