Apple (AAPL) launched its new iPad tablet computer Wednesday, delivering one of the most anticipated gadgets of 2010 while striking a competitive blow in the mobile data market through a new deal with AT&T (T).

The iPad, which will cost between $500 and $830 depending on the model, first goes on sale in the U.S. in 60 days, followed by models with additional wireless capability in 90 days.The iPad measures one half inch thick and weighs in at 1.5 pounds. It features a 9.7 inch touchscreen display and its battery will run for up to 10 hours during active use. It use an Apple-developed 1 Ghz microprocessor.

The new tablet features wireless Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, Bluetooth and, in some models, high-speed 3G cellular connectivity, which will be sold for $30 per month through AT&T with no contract -- half the price of a similar plan from Verizon Wireless.

The device also sports speakers, a microphone and between 16 and 64 gigabytes of storage, depending on the model. A 16 GB model with just Wi-Fi will cost $500, while the most expensive 64 GB model with Wi-Fi and 3G mobile broadband will cost $830, plus the monthly data fees.

Building on the iPhone

Much like Apple's wildly successful iPhone, the tablet offers stock applications for today's most common computer uses: Browsing the Web, sending email, viewing photos and video, as well as listening to music, playing games and reading e-books. Most importantly to Apple, the new iPad offers direct access to the iTunes store, through which music, movie and application sales have provided a major source of new revenue for the company.

Out of the box, the iPad will run all applications developed for the iPhone. Beyond simple cross-device compatibility, offering such support protects the investment of independent application developers, a key part of Apple's software sales strategy, which relies on taking a cut of application sales.

"We think it's going to be another gold rush for developers," said Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone Software.

The iPad will also feature new dedicated software for reading newspapers and magazines, such as a New York Times application which presents that publication's stories in a newspaper-like layout.

"Room for Something in the Middle"

"All of us use laptops and smart phones. . . but the question has arisen: Is there room for something in the middle?" said Jobs, to a packed audience at the San Francisco launch event. "If there is, they have to be far better at doing some key tasks . . . better than the laptop, better than the smartphone," he added.

Much like an oversized iPhone, the iPad features an on-screen keypad, an auto-rotating display, and the ability to access YouTube, with the added ability of accessing YouTube HD videos. However it diverges from the iPad by offering some new interface elements designed to support manipulation of photos, text and e-books in the larger format a tablet offers.

As expected, Apple also launched its own e-book store. Dubbed iBooks, the store will offer books from Penguin, HaperCollins, MacMillan, Hachette Book Group and Simon & Schuster. Book titles appearing in the company's demo of iBooks were priced from $8 to $15 and will be distributed using a preexisting industry standard format.

Apple also touted the iPad's gaming credentials with demonstrations of games from EA and Gameloft, pointing to the importance of the iPad's success as a gaming platform. Nearly half of the top-selling products in its iTunes App store are games.

Branching beyond the iPhone, Apple also launched a tablet version of its office suite, iWork. That software brings spreadsheet, presentation and word processing functionality to the device -- something the iPhone offers through third-party applications now. The individual components of the suite, Keynote, Pages and Numbers will cost $10 each and be sold through the iTunes App store.

The company also launched a dock for the tablet that allows for the addition of a physical keyboard.

Apple has sold 250 million iPods and now has 284 stores, drawing 50 million visitors, Jobs reported. The company wanted to kick off 2010 by "introducing a magical and revolutionary product," Jobs said.

"We want to make the best technologies, but have them be intuitive. It's the combination of these two things that have let us make the iPad," he said.

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