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Items, trends set to go from niche to mainstream

Every year, new cutting-edge items and trends jump into the mainstream. First your friend gets one, then your brother - and then you think about jumping on the bandwagon.

On "The Early Show" Thursday, AOL Consumer Adviser Regina Lewis, who's also associated with AOL's WalletPop.com, discussed five items and trends experts say are ready to make the leap from niche to mainstream.

So, stay ahead of the curve and check these out!: paying and getting coupons via your cell phone, cardboard tube-free toilet paper, black rice, cable-free TV, and -- the single item most noticeably headed upstream in the mainstream -- the tablet.

Paying, getting coupons with smart phones

Need a caffeine fix, but forgot your wallet? No worries. Stroll into any Starbucks in America and you can now pay using your iPhone or Blackberry smart phone. The pay-by-phone service is free and works via a mobile app tied to your existing Starbucks card. Just enter your card number and your device will display a barcode you can use as your Starbucks Card to make purchases. You can also check your balance and track the Stars you earn toward free beverages. Also, mobile coupons! Cutting out and remembering to bring along paper coupons is tedious. Maybe that is why smart phone users are so receptive to receiving digital coupons. Regardless of the reason, mobile coupon spending is expected to reach $1 billion by 2011, according to a Google/ComScore study. Coupon Sherpa is one of the most popular money saving smart phone apps. The app can instantly deliver an array of in-store directly to your handheld. Coupons are displayed as either a "scannable" image or numeric code to be entered at the register. And here's where it gets really cool: Coupon Sherpa is location-based and uses the GPS on your iPhone to find coupons nearby. You can arrange coupons based on your favorite stores. Only the merchants you select are displayed to filter out deals you'll never use.

Cardboard tube-free toilet paper

The 17 billion toilet paper tubes produced annually in the U.S. account for 160 million pounds of trash, according to Kimberly-Clark estimates, and could stretch more than a million miles placed end-to-end. In October 2010, Kimberly-Clark rolled out the first tube-free toilet paper product, under the Scott brand. This environmentally-friendly invention eliminates the wasteful brown cardboard. While the holes in the rolls aren't perfectly round, they will fit over toilet paper spindles. And they come with this promise: Even the last piece of toilet paper will be usable -- without glue stuck on it. (Expect this to catch on with consumers, and that competitors such as Procter & Gamble, SCA and Georgia Pacific will follow suit and begin manufacturing their own tube-less brands.)

Black rice

The question asked by a major cable news network: Is black rice the new brown? Like brown rice, it's full of antioxidant-rich bran, but it also contains the antioxidants known as anthocyanins, purple and reddish pigments -- also found in blueberries, grapes, and acai -- that have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, improvements in memory, and other health benefits. Lotus Foods first introduced black rice to the U.S. market in 1995. The company explains that the ancient grain was once eaten exclusively by the emperors of China. Today you can find it supermarkets like Whole Foods. Expect to see it on more grocery-store shelves and restaurant menus in the coming year.

Cable-free TV

In 2010, for the first time ever, pay TV subscriptions in the U.S. declined. That downward trend is not likely to be reversed, and may even accelerate. As online TV providers improve their services, more and more users will find it less painful to cut those (cable) cords that bind. So what then are your options for viewing the TV programs you want to see? Check out alternatives like the , which instantly streams thousands of TV shows and movies from the Internet.

THE must-have soon-to-be mainstream item: the tablet

A little more than a year ago, there was virtually no market for tablet PCs. Then came the iPad. Announced on Jan. 27, 2010 and debuting in April, Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads -- generating $9.5 billion in revenue -- last year. The company is on track to ship 43.7 million iPads for 2011 and 63.3 million in 2012. Then there's the flood of competitors entering the tablet computer market. Tablets based on Google's Android operating system are said to be in the works from several competitors, as well, vying for a chunk of the lucrative market.

For much more on items about to go mainstream, from WalletPop.com, click here.

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