Richard Vega had pre-ordered his iPad last month. But when Apple's new device officially went on sale Saturday, there was no question where he would be--in line at the Apple Store in Holyoke, Mass., to pick up his brand new iPad.
""I had it reserved, but I wanted to have the experience of just being here," said Vega, who was rewarded for showing up at 5 a.m. Saturday with being first in line at this western Massachusetts store.
Standing about four people behind Vega, Russell Sabadosa felt the same way. "I had it reserved," said Sabadosa, who spent much of the time before the store opened its doors at 9 a.m. chatting excitedly about the iPad, Apple, and everything in-between with his fellow line-goers. "But I wanted to have the experience of just being here."
That scene played out in cities across the country Saturday, as the iPad became available at Apple Stores, Best Buy outlets, and Apple-authorised resellers. After months of hype that kicked off when Steve Jobs first unveiled the tablet back in January, customers could finally get their hands on the Wi-Fi version of the device, which comes in 16, 32, and 64GB capacities and starts at $499.
In New York, a crowd of nearly 1000 people mobbed Apple's flagship store on Fifth Avenue, though members of the press made up a good chunk of the people waiting outside for the 9 a.m. opening. Reporters flocked around those in the front of the line, pointing cameras and microphones at the tired Apple fans, some of whom soaked up the attention while others were visibly annoyed.
Ten seconds before the store opened, Apple employees led the crowd in an enthusiastic New Years-style countdown. As soon as the doors opened, the first customers walked down the Fifth Avenue outlet's spiral staircase as dozens of Apple Store employees cheered enthusiastically. Many of the customers were videotaping their descent down the staircase, embracing the moment.
The first customer inside the store was Richard Gutjahr, a 37-year-old from Munich, Germany. "It's changing the way media will be possible," he said of the new device. Gutjahr said he showed up at the store around noon on Friday. "I spent the night here. It was cold, but it was okay".
Could a device (even one from Apple) possibly live up to such hype. "I haven't been able to test it yet," Gutjahr said, "but I'm very eager to find out."
"I'm in brand heaven right now", said Jacob Anenoft, 37, who works in IT. When asked to show off some of the iPad's features, he held up his iPad to reveal a blank screen with nothing more than an iTunes logo. "I need to connect it to iTunes first, so I need to go home very soon," he said.
Across the state in Buffalo, the scene repeated itself, though on a much smaller scale. As early as 6 a.m., two small lines of about 50 people (one for those who had reserved their iPads through Apple's online store and another one for those in standby) had already formed outside the Apple Store at the Walden Galleria. Every window was dressed up with either large ads for the iPad or drapes over displays that, according a store employee, were not to be unveiled until shortly before the device's official launch. By 9 a.m., the line had grown into the hundreds, stretching all the way to the end of the store's block and around the corner.
Meanwhile, helpful store employees were continuously scouring the lines, ensuring that everyone was in the right place, checked in, comfortable and well hydrated--as well as, of course, showing off some of the accessories that were going to be available for purchase later. Inside the store, Apple had set up a quick activation service to get iPads up and running via iTunes, as well as a personalized "one-on-one" set up, in addition to several workshops through the day.
A unique phenomenon played out at the Buffalo store Saturday--a number of Canadians had made the short drive across the border to participate in the iPad's U.S. only-launch. "It was a natural fit," said Delia Brereton, who made the trip all the way from Parry Sound, Ontario with her daughter Eli. "For my daughter, the iPad is better than a phone--she can use it to message me and play all the HD games. It's safe, too." "My brother is attending university," added young Eli, "and the iPad is perfect for me to communicate with him."
No matter what store they were buying their devices at, the first iPad users were unanimous in their enthusiasm for Apple's latest creation. "Remember 'Star Trek'?" joked Spiros Pantziris, a security technology specialist from Toronto who made the two-hour drive to the Buffalo store. "The iPhone is the communicator, and the iPad is a tricorder. All we need now is a teletransporter."
John Pepper, a 35-year-old waiting to get his hands on an iPad at the Fifth Avenue store, had less interstellar ambitions for his device. "I travel quite a lot so I enjoy movies and games and those kind of things," he said. "The iPad is more portable than most laptops." Pepper, who also owns an iPhone, believes that the iPad will offer more functionality than the iPhone: "I guess my favorite part would be the size of the display."
In Holyoke, Bryan Kantor was buying his iPad for much the same reason. "I travel, on a plane the majority of the time, and I had an iPod touch, and a Kindle," he said. But he found the iPod touch's screen too small, and carrying a Kindle along with a phone and iPod touch proved cumbersome. Kantor's solution? Sell the touch and Kindle, and replace them with an iPad. "It's time to make a switch."