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Thursday, September 23, 2010, 09:35 am PT (12:35 pm ET)

Apple expands iPad distribution to third-party US retail channel

Apple now allows its largest distributors to provide all six models of the iPad to authorized resellers across the U.S., continuing the company's meticulous and methodical expansion of iPad availability.

For example, Tech Data Corporation revealed Thursday that Apple has allowed it to sell the iPad to its customers for the first time. The step is significant because Apple has been very protective of the iPad's image — and third-party availability — since the device's launch in April.

To date, select online resellers have been offering the iPad only over the phone, as Apple has not yet allowed online purchases. Some resellers have indicated to AppleInsider that Apple requires even the slightest changes to promotional graphics on their website to be approved, a process that those people say has been tedious and frustrating.

Apple's slow expansion of iPad availability is evidence of the company's careful control of how the touchscreen tablet has been marketed, and who has been able to sell it.

Despite the expansion to Tech Data, Apple is still not yet allowing resellers to sell the iPad online.

Tech Data is a major Apple distributor, providing products including Macs iPods and Apple TV to IT solution providers in over 100 countries. The company generated $24.1 billion in sales for its last fiscal year, and ranked 102 on the Fortune 500.

Tech Data also has an Apple Specialized Business Unit that includes dedicated sales, technical and product management resources. All members of the Apple SBU sales team are certified Apple Product Professionals.

The new distribution applies to both the Wi-Fi-only models, starting at $499 for 16GB of storage, to the 3G-capable hardware, which carries a $130 premium.

The announcement comes just a few days before Best Buy is set to expand sales of the iPad to all of its American retail stores. All of the retail chain's 1,093 stateside stores will offer the iPad starting this Sunday.

The iPad is also rumored to go on sale at Target in the coming weeks, as recent evidence has suggested the device could see a launch in stores on Oct. 3. And earlier this year, the largest retailer in the U.S., Walmart, indicated it hopes to sell the iPad by the end of 2010.

Expansion of the iPad to more retail outlets is expected to increase Apple's sales of the device significantly. Expanded distribution channels, along with international rollout and increased supply, were cited as positives on Thursday by Piper Jaffray, which believes Apple will sell 21 million units in 2011.