2010 is the year of tablet computers

2010 may be the year of touchscreen tablet computers

Hardware and software companies such as Microsoft (MSFT), Dell (DELL), Lenovo, Asus and Notion Ink will be unveiling their tablet computers at the Consumer Electronics Show at Las Vegas this week, a move ahead of Apple's own touchscreen tablet launch.

The Microsoft Courier, a dual-screen tablet computer, is expected to make its debut at the show. Texas-based company Round Rock is also likely to showcase its mobile machine with a 5-inch screen that runs Google's Android operating system.

Analysts predict a $3.5bn market for tablets this year. Device makers hope to tap demand for larger handheld computers that can outperform mobile phones.

Indian startup Notion Ink expects to produce 1.5 million units of its tablet device for the US market in its first year.

Chinese PC maker Lenovo also plans to introduce its smart book -- a miniature laptop that connects to the Internet.