Mobile-phone trendsetters like the feel of the touchscreen theme coming next year.

Apple's

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iPhone struck a chord with consumers and industry competitors in 2007. The sleek, big-screen $400 phone delivered as promised on a whole new, more compelling user interface, thanks largely to its multi-touch screen.

The iPhone has since become the

standard to beat, say industry watchers. And all the major phone companies are gunning for Apple with a new generation of touchscreen phones.

"Slim was the big thing for phones in the past couple years; now it is touchscreens," says IAG Research's Roger Entner. "I think you will see some very good touchscreen phones by this time next year."

One of the more hotly anticipated phones is

Research In Motion's

( RIMM) 9000 series BlackBerry. The phone exists in concept only at this point, and people familiar with the company say it probably won't hit the market until the second half of next year. The phone is expected to have a big touchscreen and a keyboard, but the final design has yet to be decided.

No. 1 phonemaker

Nokia

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is expected to have two touchscreen phones sometime next year. At least one of the phones -- tentatively dubbed the N96 -- will have a pulsing touchscreen, a trend that started in 2007.

LG

introduced the touchscreen Voyager with

Verizon

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this fall. It was one of the first on the market to sport both a pulsing screen and a flip-open keyboard. LG will likely make improvements on the Voyager and is expected to introduce a sleeker touchscreen unit similar to its Prada, known as the MS25.

Motorola

( MOT) -- the fallen phone king that once led the market with the introduction of flip-phones, skinny phones and the Razr, its ultra-skinny flip-phone -- remains behind the curve. Motorola is working on touchscreen phones, and executives have said as recently as September that the company may introduce a touchscreen phone in the U.S. "at some point."

One investor who has recently toured some Asian tech companies says touchscreen technology as attracted a strong interest among developers. He says one of the big areas of excitement is

capacitive touchscreens that can sense the electrons in a user's fingers as opposed to the pressure of the touch.

There is also strong interest in multi-touch technology used by Apple's iPhone that senses two fingers and allows functions such as widening and shrinking of pictures.

"We are moving toward a much different user interface," says the investor. "We are going from buttons and knobs to touch and voice commands."

There are three big publicly traded players in the touchscreen technology arena. German tech shop

Balda

, which trades on that country's exchange, has a 50% stake in China's

TPK

, which has been reported as the supplier of iPhone's touchscreen technology.

Two other players are touchscreen touch-pad giant

Synaptics

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and

Cypress Semiconductor

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, a chip supplier to companies including Apple.

Next: The ultra-skinny folding touchscreen from the future.