Apple Sets iPad Ship Date Amid Cheers and Jeers

Some models of Apple's much-discussed iPad will become available to U.S. buyers on April 3, the company said today -- answering one of the remaining questions surrounding the sleek-looking, mobile touchscreen device about which the industry has spent the better part of a year buzzing.

However, that date is only for iPad models sporting Wi-Fi connections. More expensive models, featuring both Wi-Fi and 3G wireless connectivity, won't ship until "late April," the company said. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) also added that U.S. pre-orders for all iPad variations will start March 12.

The plans are also somewhat behind initial expectations. During the iPad's introduction in January, CEO Steve Jobs said the iPad would be available within 60 days of launch, which would have been at the end of March. At least one industry analyst claimed earlier this month that delays with the iPad's Taiwanese manufacturer, Hon Hai Precision Corp., would limit the number of units available by March, though it's unclear how much impact, if any, this might have had on Apple's timing.

Apple on Friday also gave a first look at its international rollout plans. According to the company, both models of the iPad will go on sale in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK in late April, with pricing to be announced sometime that month. Apple also said that it plans to ship the iPad in additional, unspecified countries "later this year."

Now that the question of when the iPad will ship has largely been answered, the industry waits to see whether the iPad continues Apple's string of mobile device hits following the iPod and iPhone.

High expectations for Apple's next handheld computer

Despite its previous track record and the massive, prelaunch excitement surrounding its latest product, another Apple success with the iPad is far from a sure thing. Initial reports suggested a hint of disappointment among the iPad's potential consumers following months of rabid speculation and fevered rumor-mongering leading up to the device's unveiling in late January.

And while the device received accolades for its looks, its responsiveness and its ability to run iPhone apps -- not to mention a lower-than-expected, $499 price tag for its entry-level model -- some found plenty to complain about when initially assessing the iPad.

For starters, critics blasted the device's lack of multitasking, while others criticized Apple's strict stance on iPad developers or the lack of Adobe Flash support or a built-in camera.

Still, it's clear that Apple has high aspirations for the device.

When his company finally revealed the iPad, Jobs described the device as "truly magical" and as fitting in nicely between two existing product categories that are already key for Apple: smartphones and notebooks. And Apple is known to be meeting with high-level media executives, widely seen as a move to pave the way for the iPad to take on e-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle -- a small but growing market that's already thought to be paying off handsomely for Amazon.

There are also signs that plenty of other companies are betting big on the iPad as well. For one thing, a recent study by online contractor portal Elance found a surge in demand for iPad developers.

"iPad is something completely new," Jobs said in a statement on Friday. "We're excited for customers to get their hands on this magical and revolutionary product and connect with their apps and content in a more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before."

And despite early reports of lackluster demand for the device, an RBC/ChangeWave study this week found some reason for Apple to cheer: There might be higher interest in the iPad now than there had been for the Apple iPhone just before its launch, with consumers responding positively to the iPad's pricing and the wide array of mobile apps available through the Apple App Store.

Pricing for the iPad starts at $499 for its 16GB, Wi-Fi-only model. Versions with 32GB and 64GB of memory will retail for $599 and $699, respectively, Apple said, while units with both Wi-Fi and 3G wireless will carry price tags of $629, $729 and $829 for the same 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities.

Christopher Saunders is senior managing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


iPad, Apple, Apple tablet, mobile device, handheld computer