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What’s left in the show booths are companies that don’t quite have the clout or money to draw people to their own events, plus ones that put out new products at a reliable annual pace, such as TV and car makers.

The Consumer Electronics Association, an industry trade group, has organized the show since 1967. Its president, Gary Shapiro, disputes the idea that it’s losing relevance.

“Nearly every consumer electronics innovation in the history of our industry was unveiled at CES,” he said.

Among recent product successes revealed at CES, he mentions Samsung’s Flex-Duo smart oven, Eye-Fi’s memory cards that upload photos wirelessly, GM’s OnStar service, Parrot’s AR remote-control flying drone, Microsoft’s Kinect Avatar, Samsung’s LED TVs, Sonos’ wireless music system and Corning’s Gorilla Glass for smartphones.

“With some 20,000 products introduced at each show, many can and should be failures. That is the American way,” Shapiro said.

And besides, attendance is up. The show is set for its third year of growth from the recession-stripped nadir of 2009 and could touch the record numbers hit in 2006.

That matters because the attendees are all industry people. Consumers aren’t allowed in. Having everyone who matters in Vegas for a couple of days in the year makes it easy to set up face-to-face meetings that would take weeks to organize otherwise. In that context, it matters less that the show hasn’t been a great staging ground for new products.

“I’m pretty comfortable that we’re the most important event for technology in the world,” Shapiro said. “It’s difficult to come out with someone really important who’s not there.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s absence may make him the exception. His predecessor, Steve Jobs, was certainly never caught loitering on the show floor. But the company contingent will probably be strong. Last year, the Apple’s retail store division alone sent 159 people, according to the CEA.

So what potential flops will be hyped at the show this year?

_ Windows 8 will be an important new product in 2012, but the late-year launch means PC and tablet makers hoping for a CES boost have to wait.

The new operating system is built for touch screens, the kind made popular by iPhones and iPads. Windows 8 will also run on cellphone-style processing chips, the type used in most tablets. That should improve battery life considerably over the PC-type chips that Windows runs on today. However, many analysts believe Microsoft has already lost this market to Apple.

_ As a stopgap, PC makers will show off ultrabooks. They’re essentially Windows versions of the MacBook Air laptop, which uses chips instead of a spinning hard drive for storage. That makes the machines lighter and thinner but also more expensive. Expectations for ultrabooks are modest _ Gary Balter at Credit Suisse believes they could make up 10 percent of laptops sales this year.

_ Having failed to catch the iPad wave last year with $500 tablets, some tablet makers will try to catch the Kindle Fire wave with smaller, cheaper tablets. But the profit margins are tiny at that price, so bigger Asian manufacturers are setting their sights on the tablet version of Windows 8, hoping it will provide them better opportunities, said Rhoda Alexander, an analyst at IHS iSuppli.

_ TV makers will be talking about “smart,” Internet-connected sets, but they’re not exactly new.

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