Apple sets iPad ship date; shares hit record high

“Magical” and “revolutionary” and only few days late

Photo: Apple Inc.

Apple (AAPL) shares soared to record levels Friday as the company announced that its iPad tablet computer will go on sale Saturday, April 3, within a few days of its original ship date.

Reports that the device had run into a production problem don’t seem to have greatly affected its release. Customers can place online orders for both the Wi-Fi and the Wi-Fi + 3G models starting next Friday, March 12, although only the Wi-Fi model will be available April 3.

A date for the Wi-Fi + 3G version was not specified, but both models are supposed to go on sale before the end of April in the United States and nine other countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K.

“iPad is something completely new,” said Steve Jobs in a press release that used the words “revolution” or “revolutionary” four times.  “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.”

The price points remain as they were at the January unveiling:

  • $499 for 16GB Wi-Fi only
  • $599 for 32GB Wi-Fi only
  • $699 for 64GB Wi-Fi only
  • $629 for 16GB Wi-Fi + 3G
  • $729 for 32GB Wi-Fi + 3G
  • $829 for 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G

At least two analysts had reported supply chain rumors that a manufacturing bottleneck would limit iPad supplies and might push the launch date past the original late March deadline — reports that were contradicted by Apple’s website and which Apple PR reportedly went out of its way to deny. See iPad might be delayed a month.

But such issues were quickly forgotten as soon as a firm launch date was announced.  (A plug from Jim Cramer during Thursday’s Mad Money show probably didn’t hurt.) The stock closed at a record $218.95, up 8.24 points (3.91%) for the day; another $1.61 and Apple’s market cap would have passed $200 billion.

We plan to be at Manhattan’s Fifth Ave. Apple Store on April 3 to see how the iPad lines compare with those for the iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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