News

Crowds in Silicon Valley pumped up for the iPad

John Boudreau
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The iPad arrived in Silicon Valley Saturday with the usual Apple flourish: stores perfectly prepped for fired-up fans, some of whom waited in lines throughout the night to get their hands on the highly coveted tablet.

A number of Apple apostles did experience more than the thrill of holding a new shiny object: They got a serendipitous jolt of tech royalty. In San Jose, over-nighters and early-risers got to hobnob with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who joined the pre-iPad vigil at 6 p.m. Friday at Valley Fair Shopping Mall. In Palo Alto, Apple CEO Steve Jobs sauntered unannounced into the University Avenue store shortly before noon to drink in the scene.

Many in the crowed pulled out cameras and iPhones to capture the most magic of Silicon Valley moments. Jobs chatted with a handful of other shoppers, but even his 30-minute invasion did not get in the way their serious business – the buying and playing with new iPads.

Some in the tech industry question whether the iPad, and competing gadgets to be rolled out in coming months, will ever be more than a niche product. Others, though, see the mouse-less slender slab as an inflection point that could redefine the portable computer industry. The device, with its sensitive multitouch screen, allows users to access videos, book catalogues, newspapers and all that is on the Web with a swipe of a fingertip.

Among the early iPad buyers was Dr. Kathy Corby, an emergency room physician from Hollister who made the 90-minute drive to Palo Alto to buy an iPad, though she had to start a 13-hour work shift later in the day.

"Have you touched one?" she said incredulously after being asked why she showed up at 7:30 a.m. at the Apple store. "It's going to change everything about how you live. You are going to be connected to everything. You are 30 seconds away from anything you need to know. It's really amazing."

What is also amazing is Apple's powerful pull on culture, which was on display Saturday as the company rolled out iPads that run on a WiFi network and is priced starting at $499. The most expensive iPad, equipped to run on both WiFi and 3G networks, sells for $829. The company is expected to start selling 3G iPads within a few weeks. Already, WiFi iPads have popped on Craigslist; a 64 gigabyte version, for example, which retails for $699, had an asking price of $1,000.

Apple did not provide details of opening day sales. But Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who had predicted as many as 300,000 iPads would be sold this weekend, dramatically revised his numbers upward Saturday to between 600,000 and 700,000 units purchased just on the first day. That contrasts with 270,000 iPhones sold during its initial launch.

In what has now become a ritual, people lined up by the thousands across the country to get their iPads and be part of something that has become one of life's major cultural events — an Apple product launch.

Jason Slack-Moehrle and his wife Annette were the first in line outside Apple's Valley Fair store. The two showed up at 1 p.m. Friday. And they had company from the world's most famous Apple fan, Wozniak, No. 4 in line, who arrived at 6 p.m.

When the couple walked into the store they were greeted by a gauntlet of dozens of cheering Apple employees. A little after 9 a.m. they emerged from the store flushed with excitement and carrying two iPads.

"We got them," Slack-Moehrle said. "Yeah, it was awesome." "It's a big rush," his wife Annette said.

Twelve-year-old Joshua Elefteratos, who had pre-ordered his iPad, was first in line among those who had reserved their tablets. His father secured the top spot by showing up at midnight; Joshua joined him at 7:30 a.m.

As the two left the store 15 minutes after it opened, Joshua Elefteratos held his tablet over his head — a diminutive Moses parting the throng of shoppers. "It's like I'm holding the Bible," the Saratoga boy gushed.

For Parth Dhebar, a budding entrepreneur at age 15, the decision to show up so early was a business one. His Web site provides views of iPhone apps. With the arrival of the iPad, he has to expand his offerings.

"We need to expand to review iPad reviews," he said. "But without an iPad, we couldn't do that." Thus, Dhebar, who lives in Cupertino — "right next to Apple headquarters," he was quick to explain — lined up at the mall and, it turned out, in front of Wozniak, an "awesome experience."

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