CUPERTINO: Apple, the consumer electronics pioneer, has formally unveiled the iPad, a "magical and revolutionary" device it hopes will bridge the gap between smartphones and laptops.

The Cupertino-based firm is looking to follow up the success of the iPod, its MP3 player, and the iPhone, its mobile handset, both of which had a profound impact on the electronics industry as a whole.

Its new "tablet" looks like an iPhone, but boasts a much larger screen, and offers the ability to send email, play games and view the mobile web, as well as functioning as a video player and eBook reader.

Steve Jobs, the company's chief executive, said its latest offering thus constituted a "third category", as it is "so much more intimate than a laptop, so much more capable than a smartphone."

"We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a truly magical and revolutionary product today," he continued.

"What this device does is extraordinary. It is the best browsing experience you have ever had … If there's going to be a third category it has to be better at these tasks, otherwise it has no reason for being."

Prices will start at $499 (€356; £308) for a unit with 16GB of memory and wi-fi capability, rising to $829 for an alternative version with four times as much memory and 3G mobile connectivity.

Domenic Venuto, managing director, media and entertainment at Razorfish, the digital agency, said "we're incredibly excited about the increased surface size we get to play with for a multi-touch device."

"Whether it's an advertising or publishing client we're building new experiences for, this breathes new life into the category."

AT&T, the wireless provider, has agreed to launch a wireless data package for the iPad in the US, with subscription options of either $14.99 or $29.99.

Owners of the device will also be able to download the 140,000 applications which are available on the iPhone and iPod Touch at present.

Some 3 billion of these "apps" have been streamed to date, having proved to be one of Apple's most successful recent innovations.

"We think it's going to be a whole other gold rush for developers," predicted Scott Forstall, who runs Apple's applications arm.

Gameloft, the games maker, and The New York Times, the newspaper, are already building "apps" specifically targeted at the iPad.

Martin Nisenholtz, svp, digital operations, at The New York Times, said "we're incredibly psyched to pioneer the next version of digital journalism."

The majority of analysts have proved to be highly positive regarding the prospects of the iPad, with Katy Huberty, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, recently predicting sales of 4 million in its first year.

Toni Sacconaghi, of Sanford Bernstein, had pegged this figure at 3 million, based on an estimated cost to consumers of $750.

Roger Kay, of Endpoint Associates, added that "Apple generally gets it right the first time, they usually only make minor adjustments later."

However, Michael Yoshikami, of YCMNet Advisors, offered more qualified support, arguing "my question is how big of a market this is, and it's probably reasonably big."

"I'm still getting my hands around how many people are going to want something of this size."

At the launch of Apple's "tablet", Jobs stated that the revenues the organisation derives from its mobile lines - including the iPhone and iPod - were now larger than those of Nokia.

"We're a mobile company. That's what we do," he said.

Data sourced from FT, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Mediapost, BBC; additional content by Warc staff