Apple chief executive Steve Jobs holds the new iPad tablet computing device in San Francisco on Wednesday. ((Kimberly White/Reuters))

Apple has launched its long-awaited iPad, but the full version, if it becomes available to Canadians at all, may cost a lot to use.

Chief executive Steve Jobs announced the device — basically a supersized iPod Touch — on Wednesday to a crowd of Apple faithful at an event in San Francisco. The iPad is about the size of a hardcover book, half an inch thick and with a 9.7-inch multi-touch screen, similar to the iPod Touch and iPhone. The device can surf the web using its Safari browser, send emails via an on-screen QWERTY keypad, play music, videos and games, and display e-books.

"We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a magical and revolutionary product today," Jobs said to a cheering audience.

He said the device has several wireless connectivity options, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and some models will have 3G cellular capability. In the United States, iPad buyers will be able to get a data plan that allows for 250 MB of data usage for $14.99 US, or $29.99 for unlimited usage.

Jobs called the deal with AT&T a "breakthrough" as most U.S. cellphone carriers charge around $60 a month for unlimited data usage. In Canada, cellphone carriers typically charge around $60 (Cdn) for about 3 GB of usage while unlimited plans are rare.

Apple has not yet reached deals with cellphone carriers internationally, which includes Canada, but hopes to be able to announce plans in other countries by June or July.

The 16 GB device without 3G will cost $499 US, ranging up to the full 3G-enabled 64 GB version for $829. The Wi-Fi-only versions will go on sale worldwide in 60 days, Jobs said, with the 3G versions being released in the United States and "selected countries" a month after that, which may or may not include Canada.

The tablet can run all iPhone apps and boasts up to 10 hours of video battery life.

"I can take a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo and watch video the whole time," Jobs said. "And it has over a month of standby time."

Media can be stored on the iPad through its built-in flash drive, which ranges between 16, 32 and 64 GB.

Apple also launched iBooks in conjunction with the iPad, a service that lets users buy and download books straight to the device. Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan and the Hachette Book Group were announced as partners. The company said books will be sold in the ePub format, which is an open standard that can be read on most e-readers.

The iPad will also run Apple's iWork software, which has word processing, spreadsheet and presentation options. The software will be sold as apps for $9.99 each.

Launch ends speculation

The announcement comes after months of speculation online. In technology circles, Apple's new gadget has been the most hotly awaited product since the company's last blockbuster, the iPhone.

Industry analysts expect the iPad to put pressure on makers of competing devices, particularly e-book sellers such as Amazon.com. The company took measures last week in anticipation of the Apple device's launch by boosting the royalties it pays e-book authors and by opening up its Kindle e-reader to third-party apps.

Amazon is not primarily a hardware company and will need to rethink the Kindle, which is largely a single-use device, said Sidney Eve Matrix, a professor at Queen's University specializing in mass communications. The iPad, on the other hand, is a full multimedia device like the iPod and iPhone.

"It's pushing Amazon to think about how they have to compete," she said.

Consumer electronics analysts expect the iPad will be a big seller as it fills a gap between a smartphone and a laptop computer. In a recent survey of 1,200 U.S. consumers, Solutions Research Group found that nearly two-thirds of respondents expressed interest in buying the device, which was above the level of interest in the iPhone before its release.

Moreover, the interest was split roughly 50-50 between males and females, and the average age of potential buyer was 34.

Those figures represent "an unusual split for most technology product introductions, which tend to skew more male and younger," the report said.