With the BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) launching the PlayBook early next year, the tablet is set to become the next big device in the new year.

With the roaring success of Apple’s iPad which has sold in millions since its launch in April, RIM has joined major players in the electronics industry to rush into the market with their versions of the tablet.

In 2011, consumers will have multiple choices — from Apple’s iPad, to Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, Dell’s Streak, Hewlett Packard’s Slate 500, Toshiba’s Folio 100 to Android tablets.

Apart from RIM, laptop maker Acer, PC maker Asus and Toshiba and cell phone makers Nokia and LG too are set to enter the tablet market.

Because of their easy portability, the tablet market is set to shoot over 19.5 million units this year itself and cross 54 million next year and 208 million in 2014, according to Forbes.

“Tablets fill the void between smart phones and laptops,” Forbes quotes Jason Oxman of the Consumer Electronics Association as saying.

“This could easily be called the year of the tablet. Apple kicked off the craze in January when it unveiled its iPad. By the time the iPad went on sale in April, the device had racked up so much buzz (and pre-sales) it was clear Apple had produced another hit.

“The electronics industry took notice. With the holidays approaching, everyone from PC makers to cellphone manufacturers, monitor suppliers and booksellers is racing to release some version of a portable, touch-screen computer,” Forbes says.

The tablets vary in their prices, weight, size and operating systems. At the lower end, France’s Archos tablets will cost from $100 to $300, while HP’s Slate 500 is priced at $799 as it is aimed at business people.

Pocket-sized Archos tablets are also the smallest in size, varying from 2.8 inches to 5 inches. In comparison, Toshiba’s Folio 100 will almost be a giant with its display size of 10.1 inches and weight of more than 1.5 pounds. Apple’s iPad is 9.7 inches in size and weighs 1.5 pounds.

BlackBerry’s PlayBook is 7 inches in size and weigh much less than the iPad. To distinguish the PlayBook from other tablets, the BlackBerry maker has developed a new operating system for it. Most of the other tablets will run the Android operating system.