Hundreds of Apple fans wait hours in line to get their hands on Apple's latest tablet device, the iPad 2.
Braving chilly rain and curious stares, the hordes of fans -- many of whom had queued up overnight -- formedpre-sale lines from New York to San Francisco hours before the device went on sale at 5 p.m.
More than 200 people waited outside Apple's flagship San Francisco store at 9 a.m. local time, more than doubling by lunchtime.
The crowd erupted as a sea of blue-shirted Apple staff threw open the doors and gave high-fives to the first eager iPad shoppers in Manhattan.
The turnout will offer hints as to whether demand for Apple's tablet remains strong nearly a year after the original proved a smash hit, single-handedly created the tablet market, and inspired a wave of imitators from Motorola to Research in Motion.
More than 800 queued outside the Apple store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue ahead of the launch, hoping to get first dibs on the thinner, lighter and faster iPad that Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled last week to strong reviews.
Some even crossed continents to be one of the first owners of the iPad 2.
"I came from Brazil just to buy the iPads so it was about a 10-hour flight just to be here, then four hours in the line, and then more 40 minutes just to, after they opened the store, so it's a long, long long time," Moises Lima, who made the same trip for the launch of the first iPad last year, said.
Walter Fraser, who is a first time iPad buyer, took a half day off from work to stand in line.
"Well, I always heard about the iPad and I never had one, so when I saw the illustration of the iPad 2, I got really excited so I must have one," Fraser told Reuters.
Apple is no doubt hoping for a repeat of April 2010, when thousands of people lined up to buy what was then a largely novel device with an uncertain market. But analysts say the 10-inch touchscreen iPad 2 has been improved incrementally, not reinvented wholesale. It is thinner, faster and adds a pair of cameras for video chat.
Apple also showed off a new magnetic cover that folds up to act as a stand for the device.
Some Apple devotees were impressed by the upgraded specifications.
"It just feels better," Tom Rielly, who has bought Apple products since 1984, said.
"It's flatter, smaller, lighter, not smaller, faster and there's just something about it that's like a whole new level of refinement since the first one. It definitely feels like you can hold it for a lot longer," he added.
Some bought the tablet device for a functional reason.
"I need it for school so it's easier to type down my psychology notes and everything and it's much lighter then having my Macbook Pro so rather just get it quick," Crystal Johnson, a Psychology student who waited 5 hours in line to get her iPad 2, said.
The benchmarks for the iPad 2 are clear. The first iPad sold 300,000 units on its first day, 500,000 in the first week, and crossed the 1 million unit mark in 28 days.
In addition to being sold at more than 200 Apple outlets in the United States, the iPad 2 will be available starting Friday in the stores of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, as well as Best Buy, Target Corp and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Tablet sales are expected to surge to more than 50 million units this year, with Apple capturing more than 70 percent of the market. The iPad 2 hits store shelves in more than two dozen additional countries on March 25.
Apple is releasing the second version of the iPad before many of its rivals have even brought their first tablets to market. Apple sold 15 million iPads last year, generating $9.5 billion (USD) in sales, and had the tablet market largely to itself.
The iPad remains the most affordable tablet on the market, starting at $499.
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