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Apple iPad release date: April 3

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Come April 3, you can be one of the first in the United States to own an Apple iPad.

Apple officially set the release date early Friday, after months of speculation about when the device would become available to the public.

"This a game these vendors play. They never announce a specific ship date, and it's all about posturing and positioning," said Laura DiDio, a principal analyst at ITIC. "But Apple really wants to get this out for spring and summer."

The iPad has a 9.7-inch, full-color, high-resolution, LED-backlit screen. Two options will be available: One with Wi-Fi capabilities and another with Wi-Fi and an ability to connect to AT&T's 3G network.

Wi-Fi models will be available in the U.S. on April 3 and models with Wi-Fi and 3G will be available in late April. Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) will introduce the device internationally in late April as well.

Customers can pre-order any iPad, for a starting price of $499, from Apple's online store beginning March 12, and an iBooks application for the iPad will be available as a free download on April 3, according to a company statement.

"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," said Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs in a statement.

Apple unveiled the iPad in January and consumers have been anxiously awaiting a release date. The device was originally expected to launch in late March, but a rumored production problem pushed the anticipated release date to April.

With Sony and other competitors expected to develop devices that will compete with Apple's iPad, it was a crucial step for the company to announce the release when it did, said DiDio.

"A lot of the competitors like Sony, Freescale and others were doing whatever they could to beat Apple out the door so there has been a whole plethora of announcements about these devices, but Apple has thrown down the gauntlet -- they are the one to beat," she said.

And now that Apple has unveiled its tablet and set a date for release, its competitors have a lot to live up to.

"[Apple] was doing its best to minimize and marginalize the competition," she said. "Now if Sony wants to get in this game they're going to have to come up with a feature or price point that is better than or equal to what Apple has done."

However, while Apple's iPad is the front-runner now, the real test is going to be how quickly applications for any of the new devices are built and shipped, said DiDio.  To top of page

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