DIGITAL technology firms in the North-East are being offered funding to develop applications for the new Apple iPad.

Yesterday’s announcement by regional screen agency Northern Film and Media (NFM) that it was launching a dedicated fund, came less than 24 hours after the device was unveiled in San Francisco by the company’s chief executive, Steve Jobs.

The iPad, which goes on sale in the UK in March, is Apple’s attempt to bridge the gap between the laptop and the smartphone.

NFM introduced the £40,000 Apple iPad Fund to help film, technology, gaming and digital firms in the region come up with application ideas.

NFM chief executive Tom Harvey said: “We want the North-East to establish a front-runner place in the rapidly evolving global content market. We will do whatever it takes to ensure North- East companies have every opportunity to get their products developed, made, distributed and bought on whatever new platforms come along.

“This region is a hothouse of creative talent and this pot of money will help our companies get to the front of the queue and steal a march on their competitors throughout the UK and further afield.”

NFM has launched the fund to help the development of iPad ideas from sketches to the finished product.

The applications for investment must have potential to generate revenue and be developed by teams where at least 70 per cent of them are based in the North-East and 50 per cent of the budget is spent in the region.

Ideas should use the new features and potential that the iPad and iPhone 3.2 SDK offer, not replicate the functionality of applications already designed for iPad.

With the wi-fi version of the iPad expected to be launched in the UK in March, and the 3G version following in April, the applications should also be capable of being in use by the summer. There should also be an investment of money and time from a private investor, which could be an equity firm or the company’s own resources.

Northern Film and Media will provide funding from £1,000 to £10,000 per application.

Analysts expect two million iPads to be sold in the first year. The new iPad is expected to revolutionise the way people watch films, play games, browse the web and read books and newspapers.

Apple said it will not announce UK prices before it launches, but experts predict they will range from about £400 to £600 for the wi-fi model, and £500 to £700 for the wi-fi and 3G model.

The closing date for applications is Wednesday, February 24.