Apple officially set the release date of its highly-anticipated iPad for April 3, after months of speculation about when the device would become available to the public.

Customers can pre-order any iPad, for a starting price of $499, from Apple's online store beginning March 12, and an iBooks application for the iPad will be available as a free download on April 3, according to a company statement.

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, said Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs in a statement.

Prior to Apple’s announcement, there was wide-spread speculation on when the device would be launched.

This is a game these vendors play. They never announce a specific ship date, and it's all about posturing and positioning, said Laura DiDio, an analyst at ITIC said in a research note.

But Apple really wants to get this out for spring and summer.

The first iPads available will not come equipped with 3G radios, but will have Wi-Fi. These models go for $499 for 16 GB, $599 for 32 GB, $699 for 64 GB.

The AT&T 3G-enabled models will be available in late April for $629 for 16 GB, $729 for 32 GB and $829 for 64 GB.

At that time, the device will also launch internationally in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK. More countries are expected to follow later this year.