ipadApple (AAPL) is kicking off iPad sales at AT&T stores Thursday, a move that took a surprisingly long time given that Apple has already allowed other major retailers to offer the popular tablet computer for months.

AT&T (T) will sell all three iPad models at its stores. The telecommunications giant will also offer pre-paid 3G data plans, as well as subscriber data plans, without a need for a term contract. Apple's efforts to expand the reach of the device comes ahead of the holiday shopping crush that typically kicks off after Thanksgiving.

Apple is already selling the iPad at big box retailers including Best Buy and Target and is gearing up to include Wal-Mart by Friday. What makes it surprising that AT&T was slow to offer the iPad is the telecom giant's long, exclusive relationship with Apple regarding sales of its iPhone.

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