Apple unveils the iPad

Starting at $499, available in 60 days.

Following days of media speculation, Apple has finally unveiled the iPad. It's official. iPad.

It's going to cost $499 for the 16GB model, $599 for 32GB model and $699 for 64GB model. Those are Wi-Fi only. And the 3G models cost an extra $130 each.

The Wi-Fi only models will be available in 60 days, while the 3G models will take a further 30 days to appear.

Steve Jobs showed the device - "our most advanced technology in a magical & revolutionary device at an unbelievable price" - which looks like an over-sized iPhone/iPod Touch, to an audience stuffed full of press at a San Francisco event this evening.

"It's half an inch thin and weighs just 1.5 pounds," said Jobs, and has a 9.7 inch IPS display. It's somewhere between A4 and A5 in size.

The iPad is powered by a 1GHz Apple A4 chip, and has 16GB to 64GB of flash storage. It has 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. 30-pin connector, speaker, microphone, accelerometer and compass. There's no camera. But there are over 1000 sensors on the touch screen.

There's 10 hours of battery life and the device uses the same App Store as the iPhone, where 125 million accounts with credit cards lurk. The iPad can play the current flock of games either in their native size, or blown up to double-size to fit the bigger screen. Again for emphasis: all of the iPhone/iPod Touch games already available can be played on iPad. And you can synchronise them so you don't have to pay twice.

Apple's updated the iPhone SDK to include iPad support, and this can be downloaded today. It includes an iPad simulator so apps can be tested on Macs. iPads, incidentally, synch like an iPod to your Mac.

There's Wi-Fi and models with 3G, and Apple's struck a deal with US data providers to charge 250MB usage at $15 a month or unlimited data for $30. That's with AT&T. Aren't they from from Star Wars? Jobs hopes to have international plans in place by June. All iPads use GSM micro SIMs, so if your carrier offers micro SIMs then you're in luck.

EA strode out to pledge its support on-stage, showing Need for Speed running with near-laptop quality. Full touch-screen controls enable players to tap to zoom into the cockpit and press the pedals and swipe the gearbox controls. The frame-rate was described as solid. EA had only two-and-a-half weeks to come up with that demo. "Imagine what they’re going to do in the next few months," said Jobs.

MLB.com was shown next, with baseball replays and stats filling the bigger screen. It's no cricket.

Various third-parties were invited on to the stage to demonstrate games on iPad. D-pads and other controls can be moved around the bigger screen now, and two or three fingers can be swiped across the iPad to throw grenades, for instance. Targeting boxes can be drawn around enemies and shots fired simultaneously. Two inputs at once, in other words.

Graphics were higher resolution and a marked improvement on their iPhone counterparts.

The iPad will also be an eBook reader and use iBooks, which Apple no doubt hopes will be the iTunes for words. The is presented like a bookshelf and new books are automatically stored there. Page layout can be customised and flipping pages is as easy as a tap anywhere. Apparently iBooks uses ePub, which is an open platform and may mean you can import your own work.

Talking of work, Jobs showed iWork next - an Office-style suite of useful work-related tools. You can build presentations, fill-out spreadsheets, write press releases and so on. The individual parts - Pages, Numbers and Keynote - are $9.99 each and very pretty to look at, which is the most important thing. This will be compatible with iWork on Macs so you can plug a projector in for presentations.

Steve Jobs also demonstrated browsing the internet on the big iPad screen, using an "almost life-sized" touch-screen QWERTY keyboard for input. Jobs reckons this is a "dream" to type on, but he made a few errors when trying for himself.

"It's the best browsing experience you've ever had," said Jobs.

As expected, content deals have been struck with papers like the New York Times, which has produced an impressive app to read the virtual paper and even play movies in boxed areas.

Brushes, a painting application, was also shown, and has an array of tools plus powerful zoom for finer detail. Brushes will be available at launch.

There's a music player that's a cross between the iPhone player and the iTunes player, and you'll be able to watch films and telly shows on the device, although it doesn't appear to be widescreen. High definition YouTube is supported, too.

Photos can be flicked through just like on an iPhone, and there's a built-in calendar, map and address book. Emails are presented with headers on the left and content on the right.

"It's so much more intimate than a laptop," added Jobs, lounging in a chair.

Accessories include a keyboard dock, full-sized mechanical keyboard and carry-case that works as a stand, too.

"Do we have what it takes to establish a third category of products?" asked Jobs. "We think we got the goods."

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