The customary storefront crowds gathered as Apple's latest iPad went on sale starting in Asia on Friday. Gadget fans lined up in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore so they could be among the first to get their hands on the device.
The third version of Apple's iPad also went on sale in Australia and it will be available in the U.S. and five other countries beginning at 8 a.m. local time. The new model comes with a faster processor and a much sharper screen. It also boasts an improved camera, similar to that of the latest iPhone.
For many customers, visiting a store in person — instead of having one shipped — offers consumers a chance to mingle with die-hard Apple fans.
About 450 people lined up outside Apple's Ginza store in downtown Tokyo. Some had spent the night sleeping outside the store to be among the first when it opened at 8 a.m. — two hours earlier than usual.
"I wanted to be able to show it off to my friends," said Norio Nakayama, a 33-year-old computer consultant outside Apple's crosstown shop in the trendy Shibuya district. "I think I'll give my older iPad 1 to my wife."
In Hong Kong, a steady stream of buyers picked up their new devices at preset times at the city's sole Apple store after entering a random drawing online.
The system, which required buyers to have local ID cards, also helped thwart attempts by visitors from mainland China — Apple's fastest growing market — who have a reputation for scooping up Apple gadgets to get them earlier and avoid sales tax at home.
The iPad's release date in China has not yet been announced.
Two years after the debut of the first iPad, the device's launch has become the second-biggest "gadget event" of the year, after the annual iPhone release. A year ago, thousands lined up outside the flagship Apple store on New York's Fifth Avenue. The device sold out on launch day, even though it didn't go on sale until 5 p.m.
For some customers, standing in line will offer the only chance to get a new iPad on Friday. Apple quickly ran out of supplies it set aside for advance orders. The company was telling customers Thursday to expect a two- to three-week wait for orders placed through its online stores. Some buyers feared even longer waits.
"I knew that if I didn't buy it today it may be difficult in the future," said Anfernee Au, 33, who spent more than three hours outside a Hong Kong Apple reseller the day before for a ticket that allowed him to buy one iPad.
The new iPad is called just that: "the new iPad." Apple declined to give it a name like "iPad 3" or "iPad HD." That is consistent with its naming practice for iPods, MacBooks and iMacs, but a break with the way iPhone models are named.
Despite competition from cheaper tablet computers such as Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle Fire, the iPad remains the most popular tablet computer. Apple has sold more than 55 million iPads since its debut in 2010, including some 40 million last year. Researchers estimate that the iPad has more than 60 per cent of the market for tablets.
The iPad's accomplishments have contributed to the company's success on Wall Street. Apple's stock touched $600 briefly for the first time on Thursday. Apple is the world's most valuable company, with a market capitalization of nearly $555 billion. It topped $500 billion for the first time in late February, a market value peak where few companies have ventured.
Sharon Chen in Singapore and Malcolm Foster in Tokyo contributed to this report. Svensson contributed from New York.