Apple started taking orders for the iPad tablet Friday, with early adopters rushing to order one of the most hotly anticipated products in recent memory.
Apple introduced the iPad on Jan. 27, saying that it would ship in 60 days in the U.S. Prior to the announcement event, Apple kept the iPad shrouded in secrecy, refusing to confirm its existence. That led to months of intense speculation about the device's name, usage capabilities and hardware specifications.
The handheld has a 9.7-inch diagonal screen and offers Web browsing, gaming, e-book reading and movie watching. The iPad is in a category between the iPhone and the MacBook, according to Apple.
However, there is still some mystery surrounding the iPad as Apple has not made it readily available for review or testing.
Nevertheless, based on interviews, messages at Twitter and on blogs, as well as reports at various gadget sites, many people are willing to take an early plunge to buy iPads, figuring that the tablet will be useful for a variety of computing needs.
"I ordered an iPad anticipating new ways to experience education," said Kevin Paffrath, who will attend Ventura College in California later this year. "I am hoping to use the iPad to take advantage of new innovations such as e-textbooks, magazines, word processing and presentations."
Paffrath ordered the basic iPad costing US$499.99 with only Wi-Fi. He already pays $30 a month for an iPhone 3G contract, so decided not to get an iPad with 3G. He decided to get an iPad rather than a similar device from an Apple competitor because he finds those other products are not "interesting and innovative." He called devices from Sony and Hewlett-Packard, and e-readers from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, "boring."
Though some analysts have predicted limited use of iPads at corporations because of hardware and security issues, some have already placed iPad orders for that sort of use.
Dux Raymond Sy, managing partner at consulting firm Innovative-e, ordered the $499.99 iPad and plans to use it as a presentation tool. The iPad will give him more mobility to walk around a room and be more interactive with the audience. It will also give him the ability to annotate slides and provide hands-on demonstrations.
A big test of the iPad's capabilities will be during a presentation he will make at the SharePoint Evolution conference in London on April 19, he said.
Sy already has a wish list of features he wants to see in future iPads, including a USB port, expandable storage with flash media slots and a built-in video camera. He also hopes for handwriting recognition through a stylus and the ability to remotely stream media from Apple TV or iTunes.
Greg Harris, an iPad application developer, placed an order to get a leg up over competitors. He is involved in the development of AppClix, a mobile-application usage reporting tool, which also includes new features specific to the iPad. The application has been tested using the iPad simulator, but he needs to get a real feel for how the application works on the iPad.
"Developers are concerned that Apple will start to release the apps on day one and we will not have a chance to really test them on the device," Harris said. "We wanted to make sure we had one here as soon as possible to get it tested in case there are any issues."
Depending on storage, iPad prices range from $499 to $699 for Wi-Fi-only models, which will become available on April 3 in the U.S. Apple is also taking orders for iPad models with Wi-Fi and 3G mobile broadband, with prices ranging from $629 to $829. These will become available later in April.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment about preorders. Some Apple watchers, however, reported on blogs and at online IT media sites that preorders were coming in at the rate of 20,000 per hour.