Apple Inc said the first iPads will be in U.S. stores on April 3 and hit nine international markets from Japan to the United Kingdom later in April.

The 9.7-inch touchscreen tablet, which is designed to surf the Web, play video and games, and read digital books, is the most anticipated product launch from Apple since the iPhone in 2007.

Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in late January, but the company did not announce any international markets until Friday, when it said the tablet will go on sale in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK in late April.

Apple shares rose 3.1 percent in early trading on the Nasdaq to $217.20, an all-time high for the stock.

Apple is seeking to tap an unproven market for tablet computers. The iPad, while admired for its sleek design, will have to compete for consumer attention with a myriad of more established device categories, including smartphones, netbooks and dedicated e-readers like Amazon's Kindle.

The U.S. launch date for the iPad model with short-range Wi-Fi wireless links, starting at a price tag of $499, is slightly later than the previously expected late March launch.

Customers looking for versions of the iPad with third-generation (3G) high-speed cellular data links will have to wait until late April, said Apple.

AT&T Inc, the exclusive U.S. carrier for the iPhone, will provide wireless connections for the iPad. But AT&T's top executive said earlier this week that he expects consumers to mostly use Wi-Fi to connect the iPad.

Beginning March 12, U.S. consumers will be able to go to Apple's website to pre-order both the Wi-Fi-only model and the version with 3G and Wi-Fi, or reserve a device to pick up at a store on April 3.

Research firm iSuppli estimated the total materials costs for each device is $219.35, with a $10 manufacturing cost.

Third party companies are already touting accessories for the high-profile gadget, including sleeves to carry the iPad, which looks like a large iPhone.

Apple said that an iBooks application for iPad would be available as a free download on April 3.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Steve Orlofsky)