It's the iPad

$499 price and optional keyboard make the tablet a big winner, says analyst

Apple CEO Steve Jobs today unveiled the iPad, calling the tablet a "magical and revolutionary" addition to the company's existing lines of Macs, iPods and the iPhone.

Priced starting at $499 but with the top-end configuration listed at $829, the iPad will be available within 60 days. The tablet sports a 9.7-in. LCD display, putting to rest rumors of a smaller-size display that would supposedly use the more advanced, power-saving OLED technology.

"This is a true personal computer with the first radically different operating system since the original Mac in 1984," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research. "This is absolutely the right answer by Apple to netbooks. If you want the Apple experience but don't want to pay $1,000 for a MacBook, here it is."

Jobs also announced what he called a "breakthrough deal" with AT&T to provide 3G connectivity for the iPad using two prepaid plans: a $14.99 plan that allows up to 250GB of data monthly, and a $29.99 unlimited data plan. IPad users do not have to sign a contract with AT&T, Jobs added, and can cancel at any time without penalty.

IPad models with 3G capability will be priced $130 more than their Wi-Fi-only cousins: The 16GB iPad without 3G costs $499, for example, while the 16GB model with 3G is $629.

Ship dates will also vary depending on whether consumers want a Wi-Fi-only or 3G-capable iPad. The former will go on sale in 60 days or near the end of March, Jobs said, while the latter will follow 30 days after that, in late April.

After claiming that Apple is the world's largest mobile devices company -- by adding iPod, iPhone and Mac notebook revenues -- Jobs rhetorically asked the question that many analysts have tried to answer.

"Is there room for a third category of device in the middle?" Jobs asked. "Something that's between a laptop and smartphone?" If there was, Jobs continued, it needed to be more than either device is individually. "This device needs to be better than a laptop or a smartphone ... or it has no reason for being."

Apple's tablet, the iPad
Apple's tablet, the iPad, is a device that fits between a smartphone and a laptop, said CEO Steve Jobs.

Gottheil said he thought Apple nailed it. "We're getting what I was hoping -- something that's not a Mac, not a Windows PC, something that isn't complicated to use. I don't have to know about folders; I just want to use it."

Key, said Gottheil, was Apple's decision to use a variation of the iPhone OS for the iPad. "Some 40 million people have figured out how to use [that OS] without much handholding," he noted. "I want this to be simple, and with the iPhone OS, it is. That's the killer feature."

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