Apple just announced the launch of the iPad, Apple's rumored tablet computer. Judging from what we have seen so far, the iPad is basically a very large iPod touch with a modified interface. According to Steve Jobs, the device will be far better than an iPhone or netbook for browsing the web. The iPad will also feature most of the standard apps we have become used to on the iPhone platform, including maps, contacts and a calendar. Apple also announced a new e-book store and a version of iWork for the iPad.

Price and Availability

The lowest-end version of the iPad with 16GB of storage will retail for $499. The 32GB will cost $599 and the 64GB version will sell for $699.

The higher-end versions with 3G connectivity will cost $130 more.

The Wi-Fi versions of the iPad will go on sale in 60 days, and the 3G models will go on sale in about 90 days.

Image credit: GDGT

3G Connectivity

Some versions of the iPad in the U.S. will come with 3G connectivity over AT&T's network.

One plan, which will come with 250 MB of data will cost $14.99 per month; the unlimited plan will cost $29.99 per month. These plans will come without contracts and can be activated right from the device.

For the rest of the world, Apple is still working on making deals. The iPad, however, will come unlocked and users will be able to just put in their own SIM cards.

Hardware

The iPad will weigh 1.5 pounds and feature a 9.7-inch IPS display (the same size as a Kindle). The device will feature all the standard wireless networking features like 802.11n, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.

The device will be powered by a 1 GHz Apple A4 chip and come with anywhere between 16GB and 64GB of flash storage.

Other hardware features include an accelerometer, compass, a speaker, microphone and a 30-pin connector.

The battery, according to Apple, will last for about 10 hours and the device will be able to remain in standby mode for one month.

Unsurprisingly, the iPad will sync with iTunes over a standard Apple 30-pin USB connection.

Just like the iPod touch and the iPhone, the iPad features volume control on the side and a home button.

Apple is also making a keyboard dock and a stand.

Software

All the standard apps like the calendar and email apps have been redesigned for the larger screen. The new interface, from what we have seen so far, looks extremely crisp and has been greatly simplified to accommodate the multi-touch interface.

Runs iPhone Apps (With Really Large text)

According to Apple, almost every current iPhone application will run - unmodified - on the iPad. Judging from the images we have seen so far, however, the iPad just scaled these apps up to the large screen, which doesn't necessarily look that well. Games, though, seem to look extremely well on the large screen. Apple simply scales the graphics up.

Apple plans to release a new SDK today that will make it easy for developers to make use of the large screen.

Native Apps: NYTimes and Electronic Arts

Among the apps Apple demoed today was a newspaper application from the New York Times, which has already developed a native application for the iPad. Electronic Arts, too, demoed a racing game on the iPad that makes use of the iPad's accelerometer. Major League Baseball also announced a native app today.

Image credit: GDGT

iBooks App and iBooks Store

As rumored, Apple also launched its own e-book reader today. This new application, named iBook, includes a built-in iTunes-like e-book store. Apple already has deals with five publishers, including HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Penguin.

Books can include images and video. Apple hasn't announced any standard prices for these books yet, though some of the ones that appeared on screen were priced around $14.99. E-books will come in the ePub format, which could mean that the app could theoretically be able to read files from the Sony and B&N e-book stores, too.

iWork: Office Apps for the iPad

Besides the new e-book store, Apple is also launching a version of iWork for the iPad, which features a new version of KeyNote, Numbers and Pages. All the apps have been redesigned for the smaller screen and the multi-touch interface. Slides, for example, can now be rearranged with just a few simple gestures, and images can be rotated by simply using the same gestures users are already familiar with from the iPhone.

The iWork apps will sell for $9.99 each.

Photos, Music and Videos

The iPad will also feature an iPhoto-like application with integrated maps and advanced slideshows.

Unsurprisingly, the iPad will also feature an iPod, which can display iTunes LP album art and videos.

Maps

During the presentation, Jobs also highlighted the maps application, which, thanks to the large interface, looks very nice, and also features Google's StreetView imagery. Before the event, there were quite a few rumors that Apple was going to announce its own mapping service, but judging from this, Apple will continue to use Google's maps.

Image credit: GDGT

Mac, iPhone and App Store

Steve Jobs opened today's presentation by talking about the iPod ecosystem. According to Apple, the company just sold its 250 millionth iPod. Jobs also announced that Apple now has 284 retail stores that had 50 million people come through their doors last year.

Developers have now created over 140,000 applications for the iPhone platform and consumers have downloaded over 3 billion apps.

Regarding the Mac platform, Apple announced that it ended its holiday quarter with $15.6 billion in revenue from the Mac platform. Most of the computers Apple now sells are laptops. Jobs stressed that Apple is now the world's largest mobile devices company.

Before talking about the tablet, Jobs also recapped Apple's history in the laptop business. Specifically, Jobs wondered if there was space in the market for devices that fit between a laptop and a smartphone - a device you could use for watching videos, enjoying music, playing games and reading e-books.

Jobs also took a jab at netbooks, which, according to him, aren't really good at doing anything.

See also: Our follow-up analysis of this news on our iPad topic page. Plus 5 Reasons to Wait for iPad 2.0.