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Apple unveils iPad

Apple has put an end to weeks of speculation by unveiling its tablet device, which it has called the iPad.

Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive unveiled the touchscreen device at an event in San Francisco. Mr Jobs described the tablet, which will cost between $499 and $829 in the US, as a "third category" between smartphones and laptops. The device, which looks like a large iPhone, can be used to watch films, play games and browse the web.

The firm has also done a deal with publishers including Penguin, Macmillan and Harper Collins to allow e-books to be downloaded directly to the device through a new iBook Store. 

The device has a 9.7-inch multi-touch display, allowing people to type directly on to the screen, as well as manipulate pictures and control the action in games with their fingers. However, users can also plug in a keyboard. Apple claim it has a battery life of 10 hours. It comes preloaded with twelve applications - essentially multi-touch versions of existing Mac software such as iPhoto.

However, owners can also download third party apps - both specially designed for the iPad and those already available for the iPhone. People with both can synchronise their apps between the two devices. "We think it's going to be a whole other gold rush for developers," said Scott Forstall, who runs Apple's app division. Apple revealed that more than three billion apps have been downloaded from its App store.

It is not the first touchscreen tablet computer on the market. Earlier this month, manufacturers such as Dell and HP showed off devices at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Some industry experts have questioned the need for another category of device, alongside laptops, smartphones and netbooks.

The cheapest iPad, which will come with 16GB of flash memory and wi-fi will cost $499. The most expensive version, with 64GB of storage and the ability to connect via a mobile 3G signal, will cost $829.

Buyers of the versions with 3G connectivity will also need to sign up to a data plan with a telecoms provider.

Apple - famous for its secrecy - had remained silent in the run up to the launch, unwilling to release any details publicly.

Contributed by: Our Special Correspondent
City: San Francisco 
Country: USA
Date: March 16, 2010