Apple Launches 9.7" iPad Tablet: Ships In 60 Days Starting At $499

Thanks to a loose-lipped CEO, we knew Apple had a tablet device on deck for today's announcement in California. We even spotted a rumored TV spot a few days back, which labeled the device as the "iPad." Turns out, that's exactly what Apple decided to name this.

Apple has today entered an all new market, one that straddles the realms of smartphones and notebooks. It's the tablet PC, which is a market that swelled and died years and years ago. Apple is known for its innovation, though, and it apparently thinks it has the magic elixir necessary to create a tablet in a post-tablet world and still get people interested.

The entire device looks like a giant iPod touch, really. It's 0.5" thin, weighs 1.5 lbs. and has a 9.7" IPS LCD panel (no OLED, sorry!). There's no physical QWERTY keyboard; instead, you are required to type on a virtual keyboard that pops up on the display. From day one, it will be able to download and use all of the applications within the App Store; thanks to a process called "pixel-doubling," existing apps can be blown up to full screen. A new SDK is being revealed to developers today, which will include an iPad simulator for creating apps that specifically work on the larger display.

We also learned that the screen itself is a multi-touch capable, full capacitive display. The power is coming from a 1GHz Apple A4 chip, which is the first actual Apple-produced chips to hit the market. Apple actually acquired P.A. Semi a few years back, and it looks as if this creation is the first fruit of that purchase. Other specifications include a Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR module, 802.11n Wi-Fi, 16GB/32GB/64GB of internal Flash storage, full support for "iBooks" (a new book for this device), a robust Safari-based web browser, YouTube HD playback, an accelerometer, a compass and a killer battery. The battery lasts 10 full hours while watching video, and it can reportedly last for around a month on standby. That's pretty amazing for a device with such a large screen.

Apple also made clear that it's going for the e-reader/newspaper reading market. The iPad is essentially the digital newspaper reader of the future, or so Apple hopes. It has landed numerous content deals with a variety of content partners, including HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan. It's clear that these may end up in the education world as well, and we wouldn't be surprised if we heard about textbooks being introduced too.

The iPad has also led to new software. Apple redesigned iLife and iWork to work on the iPad, which has a slower processor and less overall power than other Mac machines. Apple seems confident that its new layout is perfect for mobile document users, but we still aren't sure that this will gain huge traction outside of the Apple faithful. Microsoft's Office suite is still the market leader, and there was no announcement made about an iPad-tailored version of Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

Apple designed the iPad to stay constantly in sync; your photos, music and movies are all kept in check by USB syncing with iTunes. They're also releasing select models with 3G, and some without. The 3G models will ship unlocked, but on AT&T's 3G network; for $14.99 per month with no contract, you can get 250MB of data per month. It will cost $29.99 per month (also without a contract), and the base 16GB model with Wi-Fi (but no 3G) will cost $499. The base price on the 16GB 3G model costs $629, while the most expensive model (64GB with 3G) costs $829. The Wi-Fi models will begin shipping in 60 days, while the 3G versions could ship in around 90 days or so.

All told, this isn't something that we haven't seen before in one way or another. We have seen super-thin slate PCs. We have seen e-readers. And we have seen large-screen portable media players. What Apple has done in the iPad is take something that's familiar and put its own touch on it, with the App Store integration being its biggest calling card. The iPhone revolutionized the smartphone industry, but we can't say that we think the iPad will do the same thing for the tablet/slate industry. Still, people will take interest due to the immense amount of hype that has surrounded this product for years on end, and at least the Apple faithful will be sure to give it a serious look before passing it off as "just another tablet."

Just in, Steve Jobs doing what he does best, demonstrating the new Apple iPad early today at the Apple press event...