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Wait for iPad is over as Apple die-hards rush to stores

Amid an atmosphere of carefully cultivated euphoria, Apple fans across the country waited in lines Saturday morning, excited to get their hands on the first of Apple Inc.'s new iPad tablet computers.

“It’s a new member of the family,” said Pat Fallis, a Burbank producer who, along with his wife and a friend, had been waiting at the Grove in Los Angeles since 2 a.m.

When Fallis was finally allowed into the store, blue-shirted Apple employees greeted him and other customers as though they were football players taking the field at the Super Bowl, with choreographed whoops, applause and high-fives.

The much-hyped iPad went on sale nationwide Saturday morning, and buyers queued up at the company’s flagship stores in cities including San Francisco, Boston and New York. Prospective buyers offered real-time play-by-play from outside the stores via Twitter and Facebook.

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“Wow. Line at the Apple store for the iPad is up the block, around the corner, and halfway down that block,” wrote San Francisco Twitter user Sean Neprud.

But many line-averse Apple fans opted to order their iPads online, and at some lesser-known stores, it was business as usual.

“No line,” reported another Twitter user named cameleon1267, from Oakbrook, Ill. “Took me 10 min to leave with an ipad :)!”

Apple did not offer early sales numbers, but analysts at El Segundo-based research company iSuppli Corp. expected the company to sell 7 million of the devices this year, with that number tripling by 2012.

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Apple, the Cupertino-based maker of the best-selling iPod and iPhone devices, has sought to portray the iPad as a next-generation computing and media station. Without a keyboard or a mouse, the flat tablet is essentially a large touch-screen slate that users tap and press to open windows and interact with on-screen objects.

It is designed to offer most types of media -- television, books, games, music, Web pages -- as well as communications features such as e-mail and Twitter.

At the Grove, the Apple store quickly filled with buyers who were ushered to shelves full of iPads, then on to checkout areas. Store clerks were armed with special infrared iPhones that allowed them to quickly scan and ring up purchases.

New iPad owners were shown how to log in to the devices to begin surfing the Web, receiving e-mail and playing with the iPad’s applications.

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The models on sale this week are Wi-Fi equipped and start at $499. Apple will release a more-expensive line of 3G cellular iPads later this month, which will cost as much as $829 and offer a wireless data plan from AT&T for up to $30 per month.

The chance to be one of the iPad’s original owners attracted many Apple die-hards. Eli Matar, a jeweler from Los Angeles, wore a shirt that said, “I’m a Mac,” a reference to Apple’s series of pro-Mac, anti-PC commercials. Matar was holding his Maltese named Muffy, who wore a tiny dog shirt that read, “I’m a Mac too!”

Though the lines and online buzz indicated early interest in the device, analysts said the true test would come after the initial hype died down.

“We have to weed through all the Apple-philes to see what’s what,” said Francis Sideco, an analyst at iSuppli. “What will really tell us how it’s going is how it sustains itself after this initial wave.”

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david.sarno@latimes.com


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