By Daniella Grossman
Updated January 27, 2010 at 08:28 PM EST

Apple has revealed the first steps in its iPlan for stepping into the world of digital publishing. At a press event in San Francisco today, Steve Jobs introduced us to the iPad, his company’s hotly anticipated entry into the tablet market that is set to release worldwide in 60 days. Moments later, they announced their iBook app, which will let iPad owners create their own library of titles purchased and downloaded from a central iBooks store.

Using the nearly 10-inch color touchscreen, voracious e-readers can place their iBooks neatly onto a virtual bookcase that requires no trip to Ikea or quintilingual instruction manual. The reading process will be expectedly haptic, using the already culturally ingrained motions of flicking, tapping and swiping to turn pages, switch titles and adjust font size. The real question is whether or not there is any sort of software involved to make reading for hours on end easier on the eyes. E-readers like the Nook and Kindle have e-ink technology, which helps to reduce the eye strain that comes with continuous screen-staring, and whether the iPad can offer something similar is an important distinction. If I had to read something like Under the Dome entirely on a computer screen, my eyes would probably melt into a milky goo.

The good news is that Apple’s iBook application uses ePub, which is already the most popular open book format in the world, and not exclusive to the company. Also, they have the early support of Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and the Hachette Book Group, who all teamed up with Apple to create the iBook store. The store features a top chart list and New York Times bestseller list, while offering readers access to in-book photos (both color and black-and-white) and even videos. And it runs a lot like iTunes, so the millions of current music customers who already shop there will find iBooks easy to peruse and, most important, to purchase. For some techie experts, this familiarity is a huge iPad advantage—the fact that Apple customers are loyal and that its new product could usher even more e-readers into the marketplace.

The thin iPad weighs in at 1.5 pounds, more than either the Kindle or the Nook. Its screen is the same size as the Kindle DX (9.7 inches), with touch capabilities like the Nook, but beyond that, the visual e-reading experience seems completely different–not surprising coming from Apple. This is particularly true for print publications like The New York Times, which took center stage at the iPad debut to show off its own application. The NYT app brought the newspaper format to life, according to live bloggers, with in-article videos and without a lot of ads. Then there’s the host of other applications that iPads offer, apart from reading eBooks—you can open all 140,000 iPhone apps on the new device, in their original size or in double-pixel vision.

iBooks will cost between $7.99 and $14.99, which is both above and below the $9.99 average Kindle edition price. Pricing for the iPad itself occupies an entirely reasonable range of $499 to $829, on Apple’s typical sliding scale of gigabytes. (with reporting by Keith Staskiewicz)