Verizon launches iPad sales in stores on Thursday

Move by Verizon highly anticipated by critics of Apple's pact with AT&T; move seen spreading interest in iPads and other tablets

Verizon Wireless kicks off sales of Apple's iPad bundled either with a MiFi mobile hotspot or as Wi-Fi-only units in 2,000 stores on Thursday.

Also tomorrow, AT&T will offer the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G models in 2,200 stores with data plans starting at $14.99 a month.

Verizon's in-store sales plan has been highly anticipated because Apple's currently works exclusively with AT&T's cellular network, though the iPad does support mobile hotspot access through other carriers' networks.

Some critics of the AT&T-Apple arrangement with the iPad and the have called Verizon's network superior to AT&T's, even with the need to carry the MiFi hotspot device separately.

Verizon is offering three iPad Wi-Fi with MiFi versions: a 16GB model for $629.99; a 32GB version for $729.99; and a 64GB model for $829.99. That's 99 cents more for each unit than the price for iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G that's sold by Apple. AT&T's network service is still sold separately.

Verizon said it will sell the iPads without requiring the purchase of long-term service contracts, similar to its sales plan for the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The data plans for both start at 1GB of data for $20 a month.

When Verizon first announced plans to sell the iPad, AT&T quickly responded by announcing plans to sell the devices at a discount to business customers through its direct business sales channel. AT&T did not reveal details on the discount.

Verizon today would not discuss business discounts on iPads, but said it expects to sell plenty of iPads to businesses of all sizes through its direct sales channel as well as through its stores. "Our store representatives are trained to work with small business customers to provide advice and information," a spokeswoman said.

Analysts generally agree that the in-store sales of iPads will help further business and consumer interest in iPads and tablets in general.

Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research, today noted in a blog that the iPad has "kicked off an arms race for smart mobile devices" with devices like the Galaxy, Cisco's Cius, Dell's Streak, Rim's PlayBook and HP's Windows 7 Tablet.

Schadler reported he has discussed the iPad with some 200 IT leaders and "the interest is incredible."

He issued a longer report noted three top uses of tablets: to eventually replace laptops used by mobile professionals and executives; to replace clipboards and other paper-based tablets used by construction managers, inspectors, insurance brokers and others; and to introduce computing to doctors for writing orders or accessing patient records.

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Matt Hamblen

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