Apple begins shipping iPad 3G preorders before Friday's launch

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Customers who pre-purchased the iPad with 3G data connectivity began receiving notifications Thursday that their order has shipped in time for the device's Friday launch.

Unlike the Wi-Fi-only iPad, which arrived on Saturday, April 3, via UPS, Apple has opted to ship the iPad 3G with FedEx. As expected, the orders state that the hardware is due to be delivered by April 30, which is the official launch day for the WiFi + 3G iPad.

The device will also be available in Apple's retail stores on Friday, but customers will have to wait until 5 p.m. until they can purchase. The 3G iPad models carry a $130 premium over their Wi-Fi-only counterparts. The 16GB model starts at $629, the 32GB capacity is $729, and the high-end 64GB offering is $829.

In the U.S., AT&T will offer no-contract data plans for the iPad, starting at $15 per month for 250MB of bandwidth, or $30 for unlimited access. Both plans offer free access to AT&T's nationwide Wi-Fi spots. The iPad ships unlocked and uses GSM micro-SIM cards, but the internal 3G radio is only compatible in the U.S. with the AT&T 3G network.

The 3G model offers an estimated 9 hours of battery life when surfing the Web using a 3G data network. Surfing on Wi-Fi has a slightly longer estimated capacity of 10 hours.

Though the 3G launch is proceeding in the U.S. as planned, Apple earlier this month was forced to delay the international launch of both the Wi-Fi and 3G models until late May. Officials said higher-than-expected demand for the iPad in the U.S. forced the delay, so that Apple could accommodate all of the 3G orders for the April 30 launch.

Apple sold more than a half-million iPads in the first week of sales of the Wi-Fi-only model. One recent estimate suggested that the device recently crossed the 1 million milestone by counting devices spotted on an online advertising network.