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Get Connected: 2011's Top Tech Trends Revealed

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The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid device, which combines LePad, a 10-inch Android-powered tablet (L) with a Windows-powered base station (R), is on display on media preview day at the CES in Las Vegas, Nevada January 4, 2010.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid device, which combines LePad, a 10-inch Android-powered tablet (L) with a Windows-powered base station (R), is on display on media preview day at the CES in Las Vegas, Nevada January 4, 2010.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty

Like celebrity tweets and YouTube parodies of Justin Bieber, technology’s an indelible part of our daily multimedia diet. But between eReaders, 3D TVs, tablet PCs and other assorted high-tech advancements, it’s easy to get mixed signals about which will really become essential parts of the four virtual food groups (gadgets, social networking, apps, online obsessions) in 2011. On the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011, happening January 6-9 in Las Vegas, CNN.com tech producer Brandon Griggs takes us on a guided tour of which top trends are destined to actually compute.

Mobile Communications – “People refuse to be tied to desktops and laptops, with the ability to access and share media anytime, anywhere becoming an increasing expectation,” Griggs explains. Expect a growing range of 4G Internet devices, tablets and smartphones, including many running on Google’s increasingly popular Android OS, he says. An onslaught of location-based apps and money-saving discount coupon services (Groupon, Scoutmob, etc.) that let users check in, enjoy instant discounts or keep tabs’ on friends’ immediate locations are anticipated as well.

Tablet PCs – Never mind the rumored iPad 2, allegedly sporting cameras for videoconferencing, sleeker dimensions and a higher-resolution screen similar to the iPhone 4, and due for launch in Spring. With nearly 80 tablet PCs expected to be shown at CES alone, according to Consumer Electronics Association head Gary Shapiro, slate computing will be everywhere, Griggs suggests. “The iPad proved there was demand, and touchscreen smartphones have provided an entry point for thousands of people,” he says. “Tablet PCs fit better than laptops with modern media consumption habits, and they’re much easier to carry around.”

Internet TV – “Google TV clearly has a ways to go before it’s ready for primetime,” says Griggs. But solutions like Apple TV and streaming media extenders are making online content more accessible from the living room than ever, he says, with many TVs now shipping with built-in operating systems, wireless connectivity and downloadable apps. “Soon you’ll be able to watch shows, chat and interact with friends all from one remote.”

Expanded Social Networks – Users will want to join multiple social networks, and have tighter control over whom they interact with going forward, suggests Griggs. “While Facebook will still be a general catch-all, you’ll increasingly see folks gravitating to services like Path and Diaspora, so they don’t have to worry about status updates accidentally offending their grandmother.”

Smartphones Evolve – With only one in four adults owning a smartphone, according to Forrester Research, the growing range of cellular handsets is only expected to widen in 2011. New features will include high-speed 4G Internet, geo-location options and support for using your phone to process mobile payments with a swipe, says Griggs. Apps such as Pulse, which let you customize news feeds, as does Flipboard for the iPad, are a growing theme this year too, he admits, with viewers increasingly wanting to customize which content graces their screen.

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