Lines stretched for a few blocks in the morning hours at Apple stores in New York and San Francisco. Blue-shirted Apple employees passed out free snacks in the chilly early air. At 9 a.m., they greeted each buyer entering stores with an applause and fanfare normally reserved for athletes winning medals or championships.
“It’s beyond technology. It’s a culture. It’s a community,” said Rey Gutierrez, a die-hard loyalist with a tattoo of the Apple logo on his left hand, who had waited outside the San Francisco Apple store since 4 a.m. “No other company can drop a device and generate this much energy. Every big brand is envious of what Apple can do.”
Many of the people waiting for the iPad had a vague sense that they were involved in yet another big Apple moment, although they could not precisely say how they would use the tablet computer, which shares features of both laptops and mobile phones.
“I have no idea what he’ll do with it,” said Jessica Panzica, 30, waiting in line at the Apple store in downtown San Francisco for her husband, who could not pick up his iPad because he had a ham-radio class. “I’m sure he’ll use it a lot, whatever it is. He told me I’m not allowed to open it.”
Mathieu Thouvenin, 26, was born the year Apple introduced the Macintosh but predicted that the iPad would be just as revolutionary.
“I think all PCs are ultimately going to be like this,” he said, citing the tablet’s touch-screen capability. “I think I’m going to use the iPad at home on my couch instead of my laptop.”
By all accounts, the lines for the iPad were shorter and more subdued than those three years ago for the iPhone — although this time Apple has allowed people to order the device online and have it shipped to them.
Nevertheless, lines still stretched for blocks at most Apple stores in major cities.
Most Apple fans passed the time in line bonding with one another, and with their devices — iPhones, iPods and Mac laptops. Some dressed up for the occasion, bringing a circuslike atmosphere to the proceedings.
“We’re totally excited. It’s going to change everything,” Tracy Kahney said while her son, Lyle, 9, fidgeted uncomfortably in the cardboard iPad costume she had made for him.
Isaac Henderson, 39, who lives in Manhattan and waited outside the Apple store in the meatpacking district, compared the gathering to the lines for eagerly anticipated science fiction movies. “This is like ‘Star Wars’ for Apple geeks,” he said. “I just hope it’s more rewarding than ‘The Phantom Menace.’ ”
Charles Wolf, an analyst at Needham Research, said he expected that Apple would sell more than 300,000 iPads this weekend. He said the introduction “says more about the role Apple is playing in our culture and little about the ultimate success of the iPad.”
The iPad has been generally well reviewed, although there are features noticeably absent: the ability to run more than one application at a time, for instance, and lack of support for Adobe’s Flash, which means video on many Web sites will not play.
After Apple started handing out iPads to people who had pre-ordered them online, most buyers expressed a certain amount of satisfaction — if not quite with the device, but with the process of getting one.
“I met people all over the world,” said Maria Morales, 51, from San Francisco, adding that it was the first time she had waited in line for a gadget. “It was bonding.”