The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the gadget industries SuperBowl. This year’s CES events start Tuesday. Floor show exhibits open on Thursday and run through Sunday. VentureBeat’s Anthony Ha and I will be covering lots of stories at the show. There are in reverse order, from No. 13 to No. 1. (Here’s our post mortem from last year, FYI).

13. What isn’t going to happen at CES? Apple’s Steve Jobs won’t be attending. Apple has set the pace for sustained innovation in the past decade, mainly with the iPod and the iPhone. But Jobs doesn’t like to share the stage with anyone, and Apple won’t even be participating in Macworld anymore. CES will have a big iLounge area with products related to Apple’s ecosystem. But Apple itself is rumored to be launching a tablet computer at an event in San Francisco on Jan. 26. At CES, we’ll see dozens of other companies launch tablets with better touch screens, eBook apps, and faster low-power processors. But those products are going to launch in Apple’s shadow.

ces logo12. Google’s next move. The Google-designed Nexus One is expected to be the topic of a press conference at the company’s headquarters on Tuesday. As with Apple, many will compare Google’s big move to things that they see at CES. Players like Motorola are expected to weigh in with their own alternatives. But it will be interesting to watch how much support is gathering for Google’s Android operating system on other devices. Namely, it will start showing up soon in connected consumer electronics devices.

11. Are 3-D glasses really cool? Avatar generated more than $500 million in ticket sales in its first 10 days, so the 3-D viewing industry is gearing up for more consumer enthusiasm. The 3-D vendors will try to parlay the theatrical success of 3-D into the idea that you should watch video on your TV with 3-D glasses. It follows the pattern of surround sound, which moved from theaters into homes. This trend is moving forward, but it could still be years away from fruition.

rocketfish10. Manufacturers and retailers invade each other’s turf. Apple’s AppStore has been a huge success, generating 117,000 apps to run on the iPhone or iPod Touch. Makers of gadgets of all kinds are following suit, turning manufacturers into retailers. Aware of this trend, retailers will become manufacturers too. Witness Best Buy, whose Rocketfish house brand is multiplying like weeds, offering a low-cost option to many manufacturers’ wares. (Thanks to ClickFree for this idea).

9. Dell tries to get mojo back. It has scheduled a press conference for Thursday in Vegas and is expected to show off something new like its own take on a tablet computer. Whatever it is, Dell needs to find a path beyond the PC, as Apple has done with the iPhone or HP has with printers. Whether it succeeds or not, a lot of companies will be in Dell’s spot: invade the turf of someone else to move beyond your core business.

8. Green gets greener. LG’s refrigerators recently were stripped of their Energy Star labels because they weren’t really that energy efficient. It’s clear that companies have to give more than lip service to being friendly to the environment. Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, says that “green is the new black” when it comes to fashions for consumer gear. Now there’s a race to brag about who has the least impact on the planet.

ces photo7. A smaller crowd. There will be somewhere around 110,000 attendees at CES, plus or minus a small percentage. But that doesn’t mean the atmosphere won’t be festive. There are 330 new companies among the 2,500 exhibitors and an estimated 20,000 products will be on display in the Las Vegas Convention Center. But there won’t be a show floor at the Sands Expo anymore and cab lines likely won’t be as crazy.

6. Mobile computing gets more mobile. A whole generation of laptops and netbooks will be spawned, thanks to new low-power Atom and Core series microprocessors coming from Intel. Chief executive Paul Otellini is speaking on Thursday afternoon and he’ll no doubt highlight how far these little computers have come and show off some cool wireless stuff as well. But players like Marvell, Broadcom, Nvidia and Qualcomm believe they can bring computing intelligence to a much wider diversity of products than Intel can.

5. The TV gets even more cozy with the web. Players from Yahoo to Intel are pushing much tighter integration of TV viewing and the web. Web-based movie viewing services are multiplying and getting more and more rich features. So far, there have been problems like formatting web content for the TV, interacting with content on a TV, getting broadband connections to the TV, and selling a very expensive adapter to make it all come together. At some point, it truly will become dead simple to view PC or web content on a TV and visa versa.

natal4. New ways to interact with gadgets. Touchscreens are becoming pervasive throughout computing. Simple accelerometer chips that cost less than a buck have made the gesture or shake controls in the Wii and the iPhone much more people friendly. Expect to see this revolution in human-machine interfaces to gather momentum and be expressed in a wide number of devices at the show, from netbooks to gaming devices such as Microsoft’s Project Natal for the Xbox 360 (pictured).

3. Wither the tech economy? Consumer spending has been scarred by the recession. Will the average consumer still spend an average of $222 on consumer electronics gear in holidays for 2010? Vendors are more optimistic that the recession is coming to a close. But look for nuances in their words about just how good things will get. There’s still a lot of caution out there.

2. The commissioner is in the house. The Federal Communications Commission‘s chairman, Julius Genachowski, will have a fireside chat at CES on Friday about a wide range of topics, from the allocation of wireless spectrum to broadband access. Beyond the FCC,  the consumer electronics industry is still doing a dance with the Obama administration, which has signaled its intention to be tough with enforcement. Will, as some have suggested, government agencies go after new players such as Google with antitrust charges?

ballmer1. The Windows guy. Steve Ballmer’s keynote speech on Wednesday night is the formal opening of the show. He’s the new high priest, where Bill Gates used to be the pope. No doubt he’ll crow about the success of Windows 7 and how it set in motion a comeback in the tech industry. And perhaps he’ll talk more about Microsoft’s Project Natal. Whatever the topic, the speech will give him his best pulpit to convince everyone that Microsoft still matters. Here’s hoping that the speech is a little more lively than last year’s. [photo credits: Ubergizmo, msanto]

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