Thanks to Apple Inc.’s iPad, tablet computers are finally a hot consumer item, after many false starts.

On Tuesday, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which employs more than 4,000 people in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said it aims to take the tablet computer into the business world with its own device, to launch early next year.

The Cisco device, , however, offers additional capabilities such as video calls in high definition.

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) launched the iPad tablet computer in March, but Cisco, the world’s largest maker of networking equipment, said its own tablet has been in the works for a year and a half.

Cius supports Android, the open operating system developed by Google.

The Cius will have a 7-inch screen, making it smaller and lighter than the iPad. While the iPad has no camera, the Cius will have two, facing both toward and away from the user. Videoconferencing on the go will be a major focus of the product, according to Barry O’Sullivan, senior vice president of Cisco’s Voice Technology Group.

The Cius also supports 3G and 4G wireless services. It weights a little over 1.5 pounds.

It also has a detachable 8-hour battery.

Powered by an Intel Atom 1.6-Ghz processor and with 32 gigs pf flash memory, the tablet packs plenty of power.

Cius also supports Cisco’s Telepresence videoconfering solution as well as online collaboration of documents and video,

Applications capabilities as spelled out by Cisco:

• 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, 3G/4G data and Bluetooth 3.0 help employees stay connected on and off-campus

• HD video (720p) with Cisco TelePresence solution interoperability for lifelike video communication with the simplicity of a phone call

• Virtual desktop client enables highly secure access to cloud-based business applications

• Android operating system, with access Android marketplace applications

• Collaboration applications including Cisco Quad, Cisco Show and Share, WebEx, Presence, and IM

Tablet highlights include:

• 7” diagonal, high-resolution color screen with contact-based touch targets delivers an elegant, intuitive experience

• HD Soundstation supports Bluetooth and USB peripherals, 10/100/1000 wired connectivity and a handset option

• Detachable and serviceable 8-hour battery for a full day of work

• Highly secure remote connections with Cisco AnyConnect Security VPN Client

• HD audio with wideband support (tablet, HD Soundstation)

Android phones haven’t been embraced by corporations, which usually prefer the security offered by Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerrys, but O’Sullivan said Cisco’s goal was to make the Cius as “IT friendly” as possible, giving information technology departments wide control over what applications get installed on the devices.

Cisco is in talks with six phone companies around the world who could provide service for it, O’Sullivan said in an interview.

The Cius will be able to use external monitors and wireless mice and keyboards, so it could even be used as a replacement for a desk computer by connecting to servers that run “virtualized” applications, Cisco said.

O’Sullivan said Cisco’s goal was to sell the Cius for less than $1,000.

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