Apple Inc. began selling its much-anticipated iPad on Saturday, drawing eager customers intent on being among the first owners of a tablet-style device that the company is hoping to convince more people they actually need.
Brian Fernandez, an iPad application developer calls it "Oscars for nerds." Gary Whelan, an eager customer who hails all the way from England, described it as "geeky goodness."
Call it what you want. The release of Apple's new iPad became a cultural event.
Scores of people lined up outside many Apple Stores and Best Buy outlets well before the iPads went on sale. Apple's store on New York's Fifth Avenue had a party-like atmosphere, with employees cheering and clapping as customers entered and left.
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For some, the urban camping began days ago.
Greg Packer said he's been waiting in line since 7 a.m. Tuesday -- a full four days before the much-anticipated part iPod/part laptop hit the shelves.
"How many days is that? ... Oh my gosh," he said.
Other fervent consumers say they would've been willing to wait even longer. It's all about the thrill.
"I could wait a week and go into an Apple store and have no line," said Matt Knell of Long Island City. "I just think it is fun to do these sorts of things."
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Ray Majewski came to an Apple Store in Freehold with his 10-year-old daughter, Julia, partly as a reward for getting straight A's in school. He decided on an iPad over Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle electronic-book reader.
"I like the electronic books, and my daughter is really getting into them as well," Majewski said. "I was thinking of getting a Kindle but then said to myself, 'Why not get an iPad because I can get so much more from that than just reading books.'"
The iPad is essentially a much larger version of Apple's popular iPhone, without the calling capabilities. The new device is a half-inch thick, weighs 1.5 pounds and has a touch screen that measures 9.7 inches on the diagonal — nearly three times the iPhone's.
Also like the iPhone, it has no physical keyboard, but sports an accelerometer, which lets gamers tilt the device to control what's happening on the screen.
For now, Apple is selling versions of the iPad that can only connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi. Those models start at $499. Versions that also have a cellular data connection will be available by the end of the month. They will cost $130 more, with the most expensive at $829.
Although Apple is adept at generating frenetic buzz for not-yet-released products, it may have to work extra hard once the initial iPad excitement settles. Many companies have tried to sell tablet computers before, but none have caught on with mainstream consumers.
Apple will need to persuade people who may already have smart phones, laptops, set-top boxes and home broadband connections to buy yet another Internet-capable device with many of the same functions.
And while early adopters who pre-ordered an iPad in recent weeks gush about all the ways they hope to use the iPad — casual Web searches on the couch, sharing photo albums with friends, reading books — skeptics point to all the ways the iPad comes up short.
They argue the on-screen keyboard is hard to use and complain that it lacks a camera and ports for media storage cards and USB devices such as printers. They also bemoan the fact that the iPad can't play Flash video, which means many Web sites with embedded video clips will look broken to Web surfers using Apple's Safari browser. And the iPad can't run more than one program at a time, which even fans hope will change one day soon.
College student Brett Meulmefter stood in line at an Apple Store in Arlington, Va., to try one out without buying one yet.
"The cost is kind of prohibitive at this point," he said.
But others flew in to New York from Europe because the iPad won't go on sale there for a few more weeks.
Carlos Herrera, a school teacher from Barcelona, Spain, said he wants to show his colleagues how the device can be used in classrooms. He has turned his iPad trip into a weeklong vacation.
Siggi Manz, a software developer who lives near Frankfurt, Germany, was spending just 20 hours in New York to snag one so he could start writing iPad applications for his fitness center clients. Manz, who already carries Apple's MacBook Pro and iPhone, said the iPad would be ideal for note-taking.
"Opening a laptop is sometimes impersonal because the monitor is between us, and the iPhone is too little to really honestly type," Manz said.
In San Francisco, tattoo artist Max Ackermann is convinced the iPad will "define a giant change in how we perceive computers in general and how we deal with them on a daily basis. It's really cool to be a part of that beginning. The iPhone feels just like a trial right now compared with the iPad."
Yet Ackermann admits he has no clue exactly how the iPad will be transformative: "It's definitely in its baby years."