RIM BlackPad tablet rumoured for launch next week

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion looks set to unveil its new iPad rival at the BlackBerry Devcon developers' conference in San Francisco on 27th September, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Rumours about the tablet surfaced in July after the company registered the domain name BlackPad.com, The device is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of this year, according to insiders at RIM, who confirmed that the device would feature a seven-inch screen and either one or two built-in cameras.

The tablet is being manufactured by Taiwanese firm Quanta Computer Inc, and uses a processor from chip maker Marvell.

The new tablet marks a significant departure for RIM. Rather than running the company's existing BlackBerry 6 OS, the BlackPad will use an entirely new operating system built by embedded OS maker QNX Software Systems, which RIM acquired earlier in the year.

The WSJ reports that RIM plans to switch all of its devices over to the new operating system.

The shift is doubtless designed to address the concerns of critics, who claim that RIM's existing platform is difficult to develop apps for. BlackBerry devices have lost market share over the last 12 months to rival Apple and devices using Google's Android OS, currently standing at 18 per cent of devices worldwide.

Supporters of the new platform claim QNX's OS has been designed from the ground up to run on a tablet, unlike either iOS or Android, which have been ported from smaller handheld devices.

Another surprising snippet to emerge from the RIM camp is that, while the new device will offer Bluetooth and WiFi connections, it will only be able to access mobile phone networks by being tethered to another handheld BlackBerry device.

And without a mobile contract, it's unclear who will stock the thing - and what that might mean for prices. The 7-inch tablet market looks set to be fierce, with Samsung's Galaxy Tab out imminently, and a much-rumoured mini-iPad due from Apple in the Spring.

RIM surprised tablet watchers earlier in the week, when an application to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office to register the trademark 'SurfBook' surfaced. As yet, there's no word on whether the trademark relates to the new BlackPad device, other piece of hardware, or software widget.

RIM, true to form, is refusing to comment on "rumour and speculation".