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The Cloud will play a more important role at this year's gadget extravaganza.

Last year's CES was all about 3DTV, which failed to gain much traction with consumers. Hell, even the CES' head honcho Gary Shapiro said last month that “3D is not a category, it is not a product, it is a feature". Seems that consumers had better things to do with their money, like buying groceries and paying the mortgage.

Instead, Shapiro pointed to tablets and "Internet connected TVs" as this year's hot product areas. I certainly agree with the former, given all the pre show hints, leaks and announcements. But Internet connected TVs are not news and fall into the same feature-not-a-product category as 3D.

And until Netflix, Hulu and other Internet video providers pony up enough money to wean the content producers from the huge cable and satellite TV teats, you're still going to be better off using a computer vs. a dedicated box—whether it comes with a big screen attached or not.

Yep, I expect to see a lot of tablets, slates, iPad wannabes or whatever you want to call them as I cruise the show floor this week. But it looks like most of the big players will be waiting for Honeycomb, the first real Android OS with tablet support, which won't ship until March. So Apple will probably already be shipping its second-generation iPad before any of its serious Android competition gets started. But it looks like serious iPad competition that doesn't require 3G / 4G service will finally ship this year.

This past year has seen NAS makers wake up and smell the cloud. QNAP has added an Amazon S3 backup option across most of its products with its new V3 OS and NETGEAR has added remote media access and a hybrid cloud option for its ReadyNAS line. CloudEngines has expanded its PogoPlug line of cloud sharing appliances and Seagate has fielded portable drive docking products using both PogoPlug and Axentra's HipServ to provide cloud connectivity.

While I can't provide details, I can say that you'll see more NAS makers embrace cloud connectivity during the coming week and probably more as 2011 wears on. With some high-end consumer / prosumer NASes at the point of Gigabit link saturation and others not far behind, NAS makers must find another way to lure buyers in their direction besides just driving up performance and capacity.

Cloud connectivity isn't just a natural evolution, but something that will become more critical as more of our data sits in fragile slabs of metal, glass, plastic and silicon. Google's Android is miles ahead of Apple's iOS in this regard, no surprise given the DNA of each company. It was so much nicer (and logical) to be able to activate my Nook Color without having to find a computer to dock it to and install an application on than to jump through the iTunes hoops required to get an iPod Touch or iPad going.

Both Apple and Google can do a better job of using the Cloud to ensure that our precious data doesn't disappear or fall into the wrong hands. And storage and NAS makers are natural partners to help them do it.

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