Apple Kicks Off iPad Era At Stores Across The Nation

Thousands of Apple fans celebrated "iPad Day" across the nation Saturday as the iconic technology company began selling its new tablet computer at Apple Stores in U.S. cities.

Hundreds gathered in front of Apple's Palo Alto, Calif. retail outlet, counting down the seconds to the opening of the Apple Store's front doors at 9 a.m. PST. Apple employees received last-minute instructions from team leaders inside the store about 30 minutes before opening, then began cheering along with the crowd outside as the zero hour approached.

Technology author and blogger Robert Scoble said he had been camped out in front of the store since 11 a.m. PST on Friday and was rewarded with the thrill of being the first through the doors.

Scoble, emerging from the Apple Store with two brand new iPads a few minutes later, held the slim packages over his head and let out a triumphant yell. The product was new but the exultation had a familiar feel to it -- Scoble was similarly positioned to celebrate the official release of Apple's iPhone several years ago.

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"It's going to be about a week before I really have a good sense of how this is going to change my life. But I'm going to use it at home on the couch," Scoble said outside the Apple Store.

"I'm going to use it to play casual games, control my music system, play videos through Netflix and other systems, and then read and interact with my news systems, like Facebook, my Twitter, my LinkedIn, Google Buzz. And talk with all my friends around the world."

The iPad, which sports a multi-touch, iPhone-like user interface on a larger, 9.7-inch screen, could be a "game-changer" for Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, predicted Scoble. The first category of devices he sees feeling the heat from the iPad are e-book readers, like Amazon's Kindle.

"I already gave away my Kindle," he said.

Research firm iSuppli recently predicted that Apple would ship more than 7 million iPads in 2010.

Next: Waiting For Steve Jobs

A man identifying himself as Brian was second in line behind Scoble. He emerged from the Apple Store with a 32GB version of the iPad. A line snaking from amidst the throng at the front of the store and around the corner showed no sign of shrinking for most of the morning.

Meanwhile, rumors had been swirling in the crowd that Apple CEO Steve Jobs might make an appearance Saturday. There was no sight of Jobs in the morning, but about noon, Jobs, wearing a hoodie and sneakers and accompanied by his wife and daughter, showed up to check out the scene for about 30 minutes.

Another familiar face to Apple cognoscenti was on hand to pick up some iPads and tout his new iPad app. Bill Atkinson, part of the Apple team that developed the Macintosh and the creator of MacPaint, was thrilled with the device.

"It's a big enough display that you can really see it and work with it. The iPhone was still kind of a compromise," he said. Atkinson said he had already updated his iPhone postcard-creation application, PhotoCard, for use on the iPad.

Atkinson bought a couple iPads Saturday, but they weren't his first. He said he had already received one as a gift last week -- from Jobs himself, accompanied by a card that read, "To Bill, there's some of your DNA in here."

The scene was similar at other Apple outlets across the country.

In San Francisco, a large crowd gathered for the opening of Apple's main store near Market Street. Lines stretched for blocks outside Apple's flagship retail store on Fifth Avenue in New York, according to The New York Times.

By 8 a.m. EST, some 50 Apple fans were lined up in front of the Apple Store in a mall in Natick, Mass. An Apple Store employee said there were already some in line when workers arrived at 7am. and she thought the first had been there as early as 5am.

"But we don't think anyone slept in their cars," she said.

By just before 9 a.m. EST, the crowd had grown to more than 100, evenly divided between those who had pre-ordered iPads and those who were buying them onsite.

Rick Whiting contributed to this report.