Despite ambivalence about iPad, gadget lovers can't resist launch

Apple's iPad hits store shelves on Saturday after months of intense buzz, forming a long line outside the Clarendon store in Arlington, Va. Customers got to the Apple store beginning at midnight in order to be some of the first to hold the new product.
By J. Freedom du Lac and Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010

IHOP> iPad?

Ninety minutes before the Best Buy at Potomac Yard opened Saturday morning, there wasn't a single person waiting outside the Alexandria store to buy Apple's latest hype-generating gizmo, the iPad.

Meanwhile, the International House of Pancakes clear across the shopping center's parking lot was doing boffo business, with more than two dozen people waiting for tables to clear.

But then Greg Siegel materialized at the electronics store's front doors, followed moments later by Matt Lopez.

Let the new-product nerding-out begin! Sort of.

"I'm enough of a gadget geek and Apple fan that I wanted to come look at it on launch day," said Lopez, a 29-year-old graphic designer. He shrugged. "I don't know that I need it," he said. "I might not buy one."

Siegel, a 26-year-old information technology consultant, wanted the mid-priced model of the iPad, a half-inch-thick touchscreen tablet computer that's like an iPhone on steroids -- without the phone. Cost: $599. "It's going to be interesting if I roll into work with it on Monday; it'll be a conversation piece." But, he added: "I might return it if I don't like it. I'm actually not a huge Apple fan."

The air in the two-person line was thick with ambivalence, which wasn't necessarily in the forecast. For Apple product launches tend to whip gadget geeks into a frenzy, in the same way that sci-fi fans nerd out on "Star Wars" debuts.

There was certainly some of that elsewhere, as reports of cheering crowds and "I-P-A-D" chants at other sales locations lit up Twitter on Saturday. That was especially true at Apple stores, where the True Believers flocked -- and where the company and its customers have the new-product routine down.

Apple employees in royal blue iPad T-shirts handed out doughnuts and coffee and explained the logistics of the opening: A black velvet curtain hiding a new display for the iPad would drop at 9 a.m. Customers who had reserved iPads would enter first.

At the stroke of 9, employees started clapping and high-fiving one another, exhorting the crowd to join in before nerding out on the new product.

Jacob Wellinghoff, first in line, had already been through three of these first-day releases, beginning with the iPhone launch in 2007, when he was just 14. Now 17, the Georgetown Day School senior arrived at Apple's Bethesda store at midnight Friday, with a backpack full of Chex Mix and mini-muffins to sustain him until the morning. For its part, the store had put out a sleeping bag for the first iPad customer.

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