A year ago tablets were the next big thing. Hasn’t quite turned out that way. Maybe the prognosticators were just off a year.

At CES, or ICES as we are supposed to call it now (International Consumer Electronics Show), everyone was agog over the tablet or slate computer.

There was Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer waving not one tablet but three. Watch for them in coming months, he said. But nary a one of them became available in 2010.

There were other computer makers talking up their coming tablets.

We all know who ignores ICES, don’t we? They have their own show! Well, you know who has her OWN network. Who needs those other ones?

I do, and I bet I have lots of company.

Apple’s iPad came out in April, at Apple’s own show. Seems to me that not since God etched commandments on slabs of stone have tablets had so much significance.

Apple learned a thing or two about tablet design Since then. For sure its rivals learned a lot about what consumers want in a tablet computer. They also learned that, despite all the false starts of the past, consumers really do want a good tablet.

This past year 10.3 million tablet computers were sold in the United States.

Apple sold something like 10 millions iPads worldwide last year. This year Apple hopes to grab a major chunk of pad sales, estimated to total somewhere between 24 and 42 million.

Tablet customers will be looking for a strong feature set. But what will be the most wanted capability? High quality video. That is a must-have, for media consumption, such as streaming movies and broadcasts, playing games and sharing photos.

High-end processors are needed, to enable snappy delivery of streaming media and the excellent resolution demanded by HDTV-spoiled users.

Research in Motion (Blackberry) and HP promise whiz-bang tablet models, and rumors have it that Motorola and Microsoft will unveil new ones as well.

All this is happening in Vegas, after all. Big players in technology are betting heavily on the pad market, and the models they plan to release. The stakes are high.

Among the players are makers that have been known for cellular phones and TVs.

Samsung started its foray into the market in November. Since then it has sold 1.5 million Galaxy Tabs.

Price competition should work in customers’ favor, as more models become available. Also welcome to buyers will be makers’ attempts to outdo each other with innovative features, including some that Apple has not incorporated into first gen iPads.

How about front-facing and back-facing or dual cameras? How about SIM cards, Adobe flash, HDMI connections, stereo speakers, screens with adjustable contrast?

Toshiba’s slate will run Google’s Android operating system, which is making a serious dent in Microsoft’s OS dominance.

As for the price competition, Enspert says it will introduce a tablet with a seven-inch screen. The Korean maker will price it at $350 when it becomes available in the U.S. later in the year. The fee will be about $100.

Enspert says it will couple its “identity Tab” with a data plan by partnering with a major wireless carrier.

One feature pad customers have come to expect is a “light” feel. Consumers also expect an operating system to be intuitive and powerful. Speedy response and the availability of lots of apps are important.

I expect to see cell phone makers doing well in the pad market. They have good “connections” with wireless carriers. By making advantageous agreements with carriers, they can offer attractive agreements that also allow for tempting discounts on pads.

Do you have an iPad, or some other slate device? What do you like about it? If you don’t have one, do you plan to buy one? How much would you be willing to pay for one that meets your needs? How about one that fulfills your wishes?

Let’s talk about it.