It's here! Apple's iPad arrives in U.S. stores

Lines formed outside Apple stores before they opened (see video on page 2)

Apple Inc. on Saturday started selling the iPad tablet, a handheld device with which users can view movies, surf the Internet, read e-books and play games.

Outside of the Apple store in New York, lines of customers waited hours to purchase the iPad, which is one of the most hotly anticipated devices since the iPhone was launched in 2007. The lines weren't as long as they were for the iPhone, but buyers seemed ecstatic after getting the iPad in their hands.

Matthew Knell, an instructor at New York University, waited in line for a few hours to purchase the device. He plans to use the it for entertainment and to read e-books to replace the loads of print textbooks he often has to carry.

"It offers the opportunity to mix music, movies and books in one good personal-sized package. It does a lot of things the laptops do well, and it has the opportunity to change the way we consume media," Knell said.

The iPads that went on sale Saturday support Wi-Fi and are priced from $499 to $699, depending on storage capabilities, which range from 16GB to 64GB. Models that will be available later this month will support 3G mobile broadband and will cost $629 to $829.

The device should be available worldwide by April, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said during the device's launch event in late January.

AT&T will provide no-contract 3G service in the U.S., with a 250MB data plan costing $14.99 per month, and an unlimited plan costing $29.99. International deals for 3G services should be in place by June or July, the company has said.

The iPad has been called a supersized iPod Touch, with a 9.7-in. touch screen and an on-screen keyboard for typing. The device runs on Apple's A4 chip and can play back 720p high-definition video. Apple's iWork productivity application is included for those who wish to create documents, spreadsheets or presentations.

The iPad was declared a success even prior to its retail launch. Apple watchers suggest that hundreds of thousands of customers have already pre-ordered the device from Apple's Web site. Market research firm iSuppli on Friday estimated that close to 7 million iPads would ship by the end of the year.

The device has received positive reviews for its long battery life, multimedia capabilities and e-book reading features. Analysts have also said the iPad could impact content distribution and spawn new ways to deliver video, news and e-books with specialized interfaces. The device also excels in Internet-related activities, which could affect the sales of devices like netbooks, analysts said.

An iPad in NYC

Among crowds outside Apple's New York City store, a happy customer shows off his new iPad. See more pictures in our unboxing image gallery.

However, some potential customers argue that the iPad has drawbacks, including the lack of a video camera, USB ports and support for Flash, which enables video on the Internet.

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