Shoppers began lining up to purchase Apple Inc.’s AAPL -0.68% third-generation iPad on Friday, as the technology giant tries to widen its lead in the fast-growing tablet market.
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Crowds were expected at Apple retail stores from Australia to Switzerland to become one of the first to buy the new iPad. The new tablet computer, priced starting at $499 in the U.S., has a higher-resolution screen and faster networking capabilities than its predecessor, which has dominated the market to date.
Apple stores in 10 countries, including Japan, France and the U.S., were opening at 8 a.m. local time Friday—in some cases, hours before usual—to accommodate what were expected to be big crowds. Select retailers like Best BuyCo., BBY +5.35% RadioShack Corp.,RSH +2.11% and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.WMT +0.25% will be selling the device as well.
Sales got under way first in Australia, where a queue of about 200 people stretched around the block outside Apple’s flagship store in Sydney Friday morning to be first to buy the new device. Police and security kept shoppers in line as hoots rang out inside the store as customers bought the new iPad.
Albert Chu, a 56-year-old bus driver from Sydney, bought two—a 64GB version for his daughter and 16GB version for his own use. “I will use it to trade stocks back in Hong Kong,” said Mr. Chu.
In Tokyo, more than 450 people stood in a line that stretched two blocks when the doors of the Apple store in the upscale Ginza neighborhood opened by 8 a.m. Most had started to line up once the early-morning commuter trains started running, according to 19-year-old college student Ryo Watanabe, who was the first in line.
Mr. Watanabe had taken turns waiting in line for 37 hours with his 20-year-old friend, Kento Inoue. Already an owner of the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and the iPad 2, for which he had been around 14th in line to buy at its launch, Mr. Watanabe was determined to be first this time.
“The fact that the display has gotten better is a big enough reason for me to get it,” he said.
In Hong Kong, the mood outside the recently opened Apple store in the city’s Central district was more muted. Apple employees were the rowdiest bunch, cheering and clapping as the customers were led inside.
Earlier in the week, dozens had queued for days near the Hong Kong Apple store, despite police efforts to disperse them. In a bid to discourage scalpers, Apple implemented an “iReserve” system that required customers to place reservations online. Demand overwhelmed the number of reservations available Thursday, and only those with email confirmations were allowed to purchase the device Friday.
The anticipation for the latest iPad has built steadily since it was announced last week by Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook at an event in San Francisco. The device is the first major product launch for Apple since the latest iPhone went on sale in October, and the company needs very strong sales for each new device it sells to meet Wall Street’s lofty expectations.
This time, Apple is trying to hold on to its roughly 60% share of the tablet market with a product that is considered a refinement of last year’s iPad 2, with a speedier graphics processor and voice dictation capabilities. Overall, Apple said it has sold more than 55 million iPads as of December.
But analysts said the lack of a dramatic design change in the new iPad could cause some customers to pass on purchasing–though other Apple products, such as the iPhone 4S, have thrived despite their physical similarities to previous generation products. If customers do decide to skip the newest iPad, Apple’s sales could still be buoyed by the existing iPad 2, which the company will continue to offer at a lower cost. The 16-gigabyte, wi-fi only model, for instance, will now cost $399.
The Cupertino, Calif., company said in recent days it had sold out of its allotment of iPad preorders, saying that interest among its customers was “off the charts.” The company has since said new preorders would take about two to three weeks to ship to customers.
Piper Jaffray forecasts Apple will sell more than a million new iPads on Friday, up from around 300,000 when the original iPad went on sale in April 2010. Several financial analysts are predicting sales of multiple millions over the first weekend.
Apple’s stock has climbed on the expectations and ensuing price upgrades. Apple shares have risen more than 40% since the start of the year and are approaching $600 a share.