BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion has unveiled its new tablet computer ‘BlackBerry PlayBook’, which will hit the markets early next year taking on Apple’s iPad.

The PlayBook has a seven—inch touch screen — half the size of the iPad — high-definition cameras in the front (3 megapixel) and back (5 megapixel) and weighs about 400 grams.

It’s 10 mm thick and has a one GHz dual-core processor.

The BlackBerry PlayBook is expected to be available in retail outlets in the US early next year with rollouts in other international markets beginning in the second quarter of 2011 calendar year, the Canadian company said in a statement.

RIM Co-Chief Executive Mike Lazaridis showcased the device yesterday at a conference for BlackBerry developers in San Francisco.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Mr. Lazaridis calling the PlayBook a “professional tablet“.

He added that the original impetus came from RIM’s traditional customers in the corporate world. “Corporate technology officers have been asking us to amplify the BlackBerry,” Lazaridis said.

“Much of the market has been defined in terms of how you fit the Web to mobility. What we’re launching is really the first mobile product that is designed to give full Web fidelity,” he added.

RIM, however, did not say how much the PlayBook would cost, but said it would be in the same range as the iPad, which starts at USD 499.

The company said it will begin working with developers and select corporate customers next month on development and early testing efforts. It intends to offer 3G and 4G models in the future.

RIM is the latest in the line of companies that have launched tablet computers to take on Apple’s iPad.

Apple sold three million iPads in the first three months since they went on sale in April this year. Computer maker Dell Inc launched its tablet computer Streak last month, while Samsung plans to launch the Galaxy Tab next month.

Cisco Systems is also planning to launch its tablet called Cius early next year.

RIM said the PlayBook will run on QNX software operating system. It had bought QNX earlier this year and has been working to adapt the software for mobile devices.

The software makes “platforms used to run everything from cars to nuclear reactors.”

“The announcement comes as RIM revamps its iconic BlackBerry smartphones, originally made for businesses to handle email—for a market driven more by consumers looking for fast handsets and cool software,” the daily said.

RIM handsets are facing tough competition from Apple’s iPhone as well as handsets that run on Google’s Android operating system, mainly in the critical US smartphone market, it added.

RIM also announced a mobile advertising service similar to those offered by Google and Apple.

Developers would keep 60 per cent of the ad revenue they generate from BlackBerry apps.

PlayBook would support Adobe’s Flash technology, which is used to power many videos and applications on the Internet.