British operators line up to offer iPad as Apple delays global launch

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The Independent Online

Vodafone, O2 and Orange have confirmed that they would offer the Apple iPad to customers in Britain. Yet, those waiting to get their hands on the device were disappointed yesterday as the US company was forced to delay the worldwide launch of the electronic tablet because of overwhelming demand in its home market.

The three largest UK mobile operators announced separately that they would offer "dedicated iPad price plans for all models". T-Mobile, which has secured a merger with Orange, remains in talks with Apple, while 3 currently has no plans to stock the iPad.

The companies which have secured the rights to offer the device are the three which already offer the iPhone in the UK. They have been in talks with Apple about the iPad since January.

Tim Renowden, an analyst at the research group Ovum, said it was no surprise that Apple had agreed a deal with several operators. "Apple wants to maximise demand for the iPad and the best way is multiple operators," he said. "It is a new device category, so Apple needs to build demand and volume as quickly as possible because it is more uncertain it will succeed."

All three companies will offer competing monthly pricing plans for customers looking to surf the internet using their 3G mobile broadband services. They are expected to offer both pre-pay and contract services.

Apple has so far only announced the prices of the iPad in the US, which start at $499. However, there has been a hitch in the planned international release of the device that Steve Jobs, the Apple chief executive, has labelled "magical and revolutionary".

The Californian company said that despite delivering more than 500,000 iPads in its first week "demand is far higher than we predicted and will likely continue to exceed our supply over the next several weeks".

At present, the iPad offers only Wi-Fi wireless internet connections. Models with Wi-Fi and 3G mobile broadband will go on sale at the end of the month in the US and the company has said it has taken "a large number" of pre-orders on the device. Apple said: "Faced with this surprisingly strong US demand, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the international launch of iPad by one month, until the end of May".

It added that international pricing and pre-orders would start on 10 May. However, the UK operators said they would reveal prices "at the end of May". Mr Renowden said: "Maybe Apple were surprised by the demand, but it won't affect sales. If anything it will probably generate more anticipation."

Ovum's analysts have predicted that Apple will ship 13 million iPads globally by the end of next year.

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