Exhibitors set up for the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. As in recent years,… (Steve Marcus / Reuters )
Reporting from Las Vegas — Apple Inc. is nowhere to be found at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — but its shadow is just about everywhere.
Many of the world's largest electronics makers have come to the show to unveil new products aimed squarely at Apple's popular devices, but Apple does not participate in the year's biggest tech event.
The trade show, which officially kicks off Thursday, will be inundated with iPad-like tablet computers, iPhone-like smart phones and Internet-enabled televisions to rival Apple TV. There is even an "iLounge" that will feature companies hawking carrying cases, docking bays, car chargers and other accessories for Apple products.
"Apple is the phantom haunting CES," said Yair Reiner, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. "The show is supposed to be about new and innovative products, but to a large extent what you're going to see is the rest of the electronics world trying to catch up to what Apple is already doing."
Apple stopped participating in industry trade shows altogether in 2009, when it withdrew from the Apple-centric MacWorld conference, where for years Chief Executive Steve Jobs took the stage to show off the company's new products. Now Apple, whose market capitalization recently passed $300 billion to make it the second most valuable U.S. company behind Exxon Mobil Corp., makes product announcements on its own timeline.
It's a mark of the company's influence that the most-anticipated devices to be rolled out at the show are those that Apple either pioneered or has recently become a major player in. The annual gathering of the world's tech industry draws more than 100,000 people.
At CES, one visible skirmish will be among the manufacturers that will release tablet computers to compete with the iPad. Apple released its bestselling tablet in April, sending competitors scrambling to develop their own. Meanwhile, Apple has sold nearly 13 million iPads, which start at $499, analysts estimate.
By next year, the tablet market is expected to reach close to $34 billion — with Apple accounting for more than 60% of the sales, according to projections from JPMorgan Chase & Co.
But the allure of the remaining billions of dollars has drawn tablet makers from around the world, with dozens of the devices expected to be unveiled at CES, including possible models from Hewlett Packard Co., Microsoft Corp. and Korean manufacturer LG Electronics Inc. Irvine-based Vizio Inc. and Taiwan-based Asustek Computer Inc. announced tablets Monday.
There was even a new product called itablet — from a British company called AHX Global.
The hot topic of this year's convention is the Internet-connected TV, a category of television sets that will allow users to directly surf the Web and access online video, as well as watch traditional cable programming.
In the run-up to the show, however, Apple announced that its Apple TV product, a separate box that enables TV watchers to rent movies and watch online video, has sold 1 million units since its launch in September.
In the smart phone category, Apple's rivals will be trying to gain ground on its iPhone.
The iPhone's competition is the army of increasingly popular phones powered by Google Inc.'s Android operating system. Android phones now account for 25.8% of smart phones, a hair behind Apple's 28.6%, according to Nielsen Co., which said Monday that the race for the smart phone market leader is "the tightest it has ever been."
Verizon Wireless, which carries popular Android phones like the Droid X and Droid 2, is widely expected to announce yet another Google-powered phone, potentially for its newer high-speed 4G network.
Even still, one of the most persistent rumors in the technology world is that Verizon is working with Apple to bring the iPhone to its network, blunting the business advantage of AT&T, the iPhone's exclusive carrier. That announcement — as often as it may be discussed at the show — is not expected this week.
Perhaps fittingly, Apple did not respond to a request to comment for this article.
Apple's absence is "perfectly in character," said Ross Rubin, an analyst for the market research firm NPD Group. "It's not a company that's going to hop on the bandwagon simply because the bandwagon is there."