Updated with closing share price and information about Apple's record high.
The consumer technology giant said that Wi-Fi models will be available on April 3 and that Wi-Fi + 3G will be available later in the month. U.S. consumers will be able to pre-order the devices a week from today, on March 12, or reserve a Wi-Fi model to pick up at an Apple retail store on April 3.
Apple's shares closed up $8.24, or 3.91%, at $218.95 on Friday as investors responded to the iPad news. Earlier in the day the stock had hit a record high of $219.70. The company's stock easily outpaced the broader technology market, as the Nasdaq gained 1.26% over the same period.The Silicon Valley firm had originally planned to launch the Wi-Fi version of the iPad worldwide in late March, with the Wi-Fi and 3G offering available in April in the U.S. and selected countries. There have been rumblings, however, of iPad production delays and reduced initial shipments, although the DigiTimes Web site reported this week that Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn should be able to ship 600,000-700,000 iPads in March and a further million units in April. Foxconn has not yet responded to TheStreet's request for comment on this story. Priced from $499, Apple hopes the touchscreen iPad will grab share from the netbook market. The iPad has attracted vast amounts of media attention since it was unveiled in a blaze of publicity earlier this year. Still, the iPad faces challenges, and critics have questioned exactly where the iPad will fit in the technology landscape. Apple itself, not to mention the many zealots who are fans of its technology, has high hopes for the device. With high-definition video and touchscreen capabilities, the iPad has been lauded as a high-end e-reader -- among other things -- and Apple appears keen to usurp the likes of Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report) and Time Warner Cable (TWX) as a media hub. Analyst firm Goldman Sachs forecasts that Apple will sell 6 million iPads during calendar 2010, although Wall Street consensus is around the 5 million mark. Technology research firm Gartner is somewhat less bullish, and recently predicted 4.2 million iPad sales for this year.