iPad's a hit, and the developer gold rush can begin

Apple's iPad went on sale Saturday, and it looks like the computing giant has another hit on its hands. Apple reports that iPad sales already top 300,000, with consumers downloading more than a million applications and over 250,000 ebooks to the new tablet device in the first weekend alone. "iPad users, on average, downloaded more than three apps and close to one book within hours of unpacking their new iPad," Apple CEO Steve Jobs crowed in a prepared statement. As of Monday evening, the App Store features more than 3,300 iPad apps, according to mobile analytics firm AppShopper--mobile ad exchange Mobclix notes that about 80 percent of iPad applications carry premium price tags, with an average price of $4.99, while the remaining 20 percent are free.

The total number of available iPad applications is impressive, but it's difficult not to wonder how many more apps would be on sale if Apple hadn't kept such a tight lid on the iPad prior to its commercial launch. Only a few select developers were given pre-release access to the device: Citing sources familiar with the 10-page non-disclosure agreement preventing partners from spilling details, BusinessWeek recently reported that Apple demanded iPad trials be confined to rooms with blacked-out windows, with the hardware tethered to a fixed object. The sources add Apple wouldn't even hand over the iPad until partners delivered photographic evidence confirming their compliance with the company's demands. The New York Times reports that developers from across the globe lined up Saturday to purchase the iPad in person--for many, it was their first up-close and personal experience with the product, as well as their first opportunity to determine whether their applications look and feel right on the new device.

While it's clear that many developers rolled the dice and released iPad applications anyway, hoping to get a jump on the competition, other developers played it safe, waiting to land an iPad of their own to make certain their software fully leveraged the possibilities inherent in the device. There's no right way or wrong way to go about introducing an iPad app, of course, but it does seem that the complexities of writing apps for a device so few people had experienced firsthand dampened enthusiasm in the weeks prior to the tablet's release: According to a survey conducted by open-source platform provider Appcelerator, 80 percent of developers indicate they plan to build iPad applications within the next year, down from 90 percent earlier this year. Even so, among the more than 1,000 developers surveyed by Appcelerator, 53 percent said their overall interest in iPad as a development platform is "very strong," surpassed only by iPhone and Google's rival Android. Now the iPad is finally available for everyone, and developer curiosity and confusion can give way to hands-on work. -Jason