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Is a BlackBerry tablet in the works?

As BlackBerry continues to fight for its standing in the smart phone world, its maker, Research In Motion, is rumored to be readying a BlackBerry tablet to compete with Apple's iPad. The company also announced Monday its free BlackBerry Protect program, out in limited beta, which gives consumers the ability to locate or erase lost phones.

This news comes at a time when the BlackBerry's market share is threatened by not only Apple's iPhone but Google's Android, whose devices — from an assortment of hardware makers including Motorola and HTC — increased their share during the past three months, according to research firm ComScore.

A BlackBerry tablet has been referred to in recent weeks by some publications, and a research analyst's note shared Friday gave some specifics. The tablet, said Ashok Kumar of Rodman & Renshaw, will have a 7-inch screen and 1 gigahertz processor. Apple's iPad — the most successful touch tablet on the market — has a 9.7-inch screen and uses Apple's own A4 processor, which is also 1GHz.

He also noted the tablet would have both front- and rear-facing cameras for videoconferencing, something seen on the new iPhone 4, but not on the iPad.

Kumar's report, shared on CNET, said the two cameras would be "a marginal point of differentiation" between it and the iPad. That differentiation could disappear, however, if Apple's second iPad features with a second camera.

When asked about the tablet Monday, a RIM spokesperson said, "It's RIM's standard policy to not comment on rumors or speculation."

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that RIM is experimenting with a tablet, "which is in an early stage of development, will connect to cellular networks via a BlackBerry phone," and "could come out as soon as the end of the year."

Meanwhile, RIM said it is bringing its business security "expertise" to consumers, as well as small businesses, with BlackBerry Protect. The free program lets users back up their personal data, so that they can restore it if the phone is lost. In addition, the software will allow users to locate their lost phones on a map, and transmit messages to the locked phone with instructions on how to return it. It also enables the phone to be wiped remotely, preventing any sensitive information from being seen.

Most customers that use corporate-issued BlackBerrys with BlackBerry Enterprise Server already have those capabilities. Owners of Apple's iPhone have access to similar security features, but only if they subscribe to the $99-per-year MobileMe service.

RIM said BlackBerry Protect will be available in "limited beta later this week," and, while still in test form, available to all "later this year."