Fueling speculation that Apple, Inc is developing a version of its popular iPhone to be marketed through Verizon Wireless early next year, officials of Apple confirmed this week that the company’s iPad tablet computer will appear in Verizon stores for the first time on October 28. Currently, AT&T is the only licensed U.S. provider of wireless data services for iPad users although the company has not been authorized as a retailer of the device. (To date, Apple has sold the iPad exclusively through its own stores or through selected Best Buy outlets.) A spokesman for Apple said that AT&T will also be allowed to sell the iPad through its stores by the end of this month. Both moves by Apple as well as the company’s recent decision to expand iPad distribution to Wal-Mart, Target and Sam’s Club locations are seen by analysts as a strategy to head off a wave of tablet PC competitors that Motorola, Research-In-Motion, and Samsung are slated to roll out by early next year. Initially, Verizon will sell only a Wi-Fi-enabled version of the iPad that will not operate on the carrier’s third-generation network. For an additional $130, Verizon iPad customers will be able to purchase an optional “MiFi” card that can be bundled with the iPad to create a portable hot spot that supports up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Together, the Verizon iPad/MiFi bundle will cost no more than iPads that are bundled with AT&T’s 3G network service. Verizon also said it would offer iPad users discounted data plans that provides access to 1 GB of data for $20 per month or to 5 GB of data for $50 per month. Observers anticipate that Apple will offer a version of the iPad that runs on the Verizon 3G network by early next year.