It's been an interesting few days, poring through the web, my email and getting into a series of phone calls with "sources", and it seems pretty likely now that Apple will surprise us later on today. And it looks like CES is pretty much an iPod product showcase.

But to be honest, despite all the guesses, conjecture and half-whispers, Apple has done an outstanding job keeping its cards close to its chest. Everyone knows something is coming. No one quite knows what it's going to be.

There's only two things that make me believe Apple is preparing the ground for something major: Apple CEO Steve Jobs has reportedly invited all his best friends along to today's keynote, and he's scheduled to appear on ABC's business programme, Nightline, in the evening (US time).

So we know something's up, and given that we'll know exactly what it is in just a few hours time, it seems pointless playing any more guessing games.

That's not what I wanted to note, in any case.

I've been looking at what's coming out of that other trade show, CES. And I'm beginning to think that CES has transformed into nothing much more than an iPod show.

Every other news announcement seems to be for an iPod product, a product inspired by the success of that product, or a product designed to compete with iTV.

One analyst notes that CES isn't about convergence, but compatibility, at least that's how it looks this year.

And Microsoft's previous 'Plays For Sure' partners are wandering around CES quietly complaining that the company has sold them down the river with its new closed Zune music system. Microsoft has punished its prior digital music partners for not being able to grow quickly enough. Those partners aren't so happy.

As I see it, even news that Vista ships later this month, and announcements of a range of Windows-friendly products for the digital home don't cut it.

Why?

Because Microsoft doesn't own the buzz any more. The company has lost its grip. A desperate Bill Gates may be making his claims that entering the mobile phone market will be "hard" for Apple (well, we know it was hard for Microsoft — many mobile telcos spent a lot of time looking for an alternative to Microsoft before they signed to Windows Mobile). But that's just posturing. Just look at all the iPod gadgets coming out of CES, and do a count (if you like) of the Zune:iPod ratio.

The environment has changed. It took years to achieve. The technology landscape is becoming a tiny bit more competitive again, and that's a good thing.

At least this year, CES is an iPod product trade show, and Macworld? Macworld Expo seems set (at least for one more year) to be the event where the future gets made.