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The iPad arrives!

After an unprecedented build-up and an agonizing wait for the Apple faithful, CEO Steve Jobs today unveiled the iPad, the company's much-anticipated tablet computer.

The sleek 10-inch high, ultra-thin iPad is expected to lead the way for a new generation of multi-media, do-it-all, web-enabled devices.

Although tech analysts and Apple-watchers spent weeks speculating on which game-changing features would be incorporated into the iPad, it most closely resembles an oversized Touch, Apple's flagship device from the hugely successful iPod range.

Although the iPad comes with a 10-inch LED backlit touchscreen, great apps and superfast connectivity options, there is no one feature that Apple can claim is a technological breakthrough. Instead, the iPad delivers the best-of-the-best, all in one beautifully designed, easy-to-carry device.

At Mr. Jobs' press conference, much was made of the browsing capabilities of the iPad – the first device to "put the Internet in your hand". And it's true, the clarity and the versatility of the screen might just turn out to be its best feature, presenting web pages, as well as newspapers, movies and photos, at an easy-on-the-eye size that could quickly make smartphones feel fiddly and annoying.

As expected, the device comes with Safari, iTunes, maps, video playback and e-mail capability, including a pop-up on-screen keyboard that's almost the size of a laptop's. In fact, it comes with everything you would expect from an iPhone, minus the phone and the camera.

If there is something game-changing about the iPad, it may be in the applications it can run rather than the device itself. With the introduction of the iPad, Apple has split its main app sources into three: iTunes, the App Store, and a newcomer, iBooks. Although many of the 140,000 existing apps will look spectacular on the larger screen, it's iBooks that will get people's attention and have Amazon and book publishers scratching their heads about how they respond.

Don't expect Apple to be able to put a stranglehold on the publishing world the same way they did on the music world with iTunes, but don't expect them to be passive participants either. They are already cutting deals with newspaper and magazine publishers, hoping to reinvent and re-energize that struggling sector.   

But perhaps the most welcome feature of the iPad is the price. Despite rumors that the device could cost up to $1,000, Apple clearly wants to get the iPad into as many hands as possible. The Wi-Fi-enabled iPad starts at just $499 for the 16GB version, going up to $699 for the 64GB version. Adding 3G connectivity will cost an additional $130, putting the price of the most expensive iPad at $829.

3G connectivity will be provided by AT&T but no contract is required, suggesting that other carriers will quickly be added.

The iPad is no game-changer but it neatly consolidates everything that consumers love in one state-of-art device. With its reasonable price point, expect Apple to register another huge hit.  First shipments are expected in April.   

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