Apple unveils its much-anticipated iPad media slate [Updated]

After months of speculation, Apple CEO Steve Jobs this morning unveiled the iPad, a gesture-based media slate for e-books, Web browsing, video playback, applications and more. Pricing begins at $499.

At a press conference, going on now in San Francisco, Jobs described the device as "way better than a laptop, way better than a phone."

The iPad is a thin, large-screen tablet based on the iPod Touch, and appears to function like an iPhone, allowing users to simply tap the screen to access functions, or move images with a swipe of a finger.

The iPad is a half-inch-thick, weighs just 1-1/2 pounds and boasts a 9.7-inch IPS (in-plane switching) display screen. It will be available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB.

The basic 14GB version will retail for $499, much lower than many predicted. On the upper end of the scale, the 64GB iPad with WiFi and 3G will sell for $829.

In a fast-paced presentation, Jobs demonstrated the device's use as a Web browser and movie screen, accessed iTunes, used calendar and maps applications, created email, and flipped through photo slideshows.

Scott Forstall, Apple's senior vice president of iPhone software, gave an overview of the iPad's gaming potential before moving on to a customized app developed by The New York Times.

Programmer Steve Sprang briefly demonstrated the Brushes app, which allows users to paint on screen with brushes, swatches, eyedroppers and other tools. It will be available at launch. (Engadget describes Brushes as "very slick -- probably the most impressive demo yet. A very sophisticated use of the screen real estate.") As a commenter below points out, Brushes is the iPhone app artist Jorge Colombo used last year to paint covers for The New Yorker.

Moving on to Apple's e-book app -- called iBooks, naturally -- Jobs acknowledged Amazon's pioneering efforts. "We're going to stand on their shoulders for this," he said.

For its iBooks store, Apple is partnering (at least initially) with five major publishers: HarperCollins, Hatchette Book Group, MacMillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster. The reader allows users to skip directly to chapters from a book's table of contents, change fonts, view images and control the speed of animated page turns.

Apple will begin shipping iPads in the next 60 days; it'll be an additional 30 days for the 3G models.

The conference/presentation has ended. We'll be sure to post updates if more details emerge.

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