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CES 2010: This Year’s Crystal Ball Is Made of Glass

With hundreds of new product launches and an annual industry reunion, CES brings out the fortune-teller (oops, I mean analyst) in all of us. The economy has forced companies to tone down big risk-taking schemes, but there’s still plenty to talk about, even if some of it comes with a lower price tag.

My bets on some of the hottest trends at the show:

eBook Wars: You’ll have seen most of them before the opening day of CES, but you’re going to begin to see a features war over book readers. Color readers, readers with two screens, readers with backlit screens, pocket readers, multimedia readers, and so on. The good news? All this talk about reading may resuscitate the printed word. If you’re at CES, visit the eReader exhibit on the CES floor and the HigherEd Tech Summit.* Both will be discussing how ebooks will replace those high-priced printed versions.

3D: James Cameron may be getting all the 3D glory on the big screen this season, but there are plenty of folks at CES leaving their 3D mark. Look for notebooks and netbooks from the likes of Acer (3D glasses required). SONY, Mitsubishi, and Panasonic will be showing the next variant of 3D TV (glasses required on most, not all). Even the gamemakers (keep an eye on PlayStation) will be supporting 3D output. ASUS has just announced a 3D gaming notebook, the G51 J 3D. My favorite? Fujifilm has a new camera that shoots photos and videos in 3D and requires no glasses. The trick? Two sensors built into the camera.

Mobile Phones and Their Apps: There are now over 100,000 iPhone apps; that’s a pretty big business. But the iPhone is being challenged by Android, RIM Blackberry, Microsoft Windows Mobile, Palm, and Nokia’s Symbian environments. As consumers, we want to know what apps are worth paying for; as a developer, you’ll want to know what apps to create for. These topics will be visited in multiple places on the show floor, but the Mobile Apps Showdown should be a nice culmination of an app-ified world.

Mind and Body: Take a motion sensor, add some software and a cloud computing app, and you’ve got the recipe for a healthier body. Look for everything from digital pedometers with online recordkeeping to elaborate systems that measure your energy output and give you enough readout to put the Challenger’s dashboard to shame. Watch for biofeedback, relaxation, remote medical data collection, and more.

Telepresence: Yes, it’s a Trekian buzzword, but get used to it. Simply (probably too simply) put, telepresence creates the illusion that something is near you, even though it is not. Video conferencing, distance learning, remote medical diagnoses–all of these rely on telepresence. Look for Cisco to take the lead, but IBM, Microsoft, and others will express their violent interest in this topic.

Augmented Reality: A close cousin of telepresence, augmented reality was beginning to seep into our collective consciousness at the last CES. It’s back, and in general it describes a technology that adds a level of information on top of your physical reality. Point your phone at a person and it might automatically recognize them and offer the person’s vital stats for you. Point a digital camera at an object (say, a museum) and have entries about that object appear on your screen. Making augmented reality more real are manufacturers like NVIDIA. Its new Tegra chip packs the power of a PC onto a single, small chip.

* Disclosure: My company, Living in Digital Times, produces the Mobile Apps Showdown and the HigherEd Tech Summit at CES.