Apple started selling its new iPad at stores Friday, and the launch drew long lines around the world. Post reporter Sarah Halzack tries to make sense of why people keep flocking to Apple stores on the first day of a product launch even though there are other ways to get the Apple item:

Photos of the crowds show that customers have gone to great lengths to be among the first to step into the store Friday morning. In London, they’re stuffed like sardines behind a barrier gate; in Tokyo, some have slept overnight in sleeping bags on the sidewalks.

The fervor may not be surprising since there’ve been similar scenes for the launch of other recent Apple products. But it’s still a little strange, when you consider that there are other — less extreme — ways to be one of the first to get your hands on the tablet.

Customers were able to pre-ordering the device online as early as March 7. The tablet will show up on those buyers’ doorsteps Friday without the hassle and hysteria of some of the lines at the Apple store. (It should be noted that Apple has a limited number of iPads available for sale online.)

Wal-Mart offered another alternative. The big-box retailer began selling the tablet at midnight, a full eight hours earlier than most bricks-and-mortar Apple stores.

So why do people keep making the pilgrimage to the Apple store on the first day a product goes up for sale, even when they know it’s likely to be a mob scene and that they can avoid the hassle by taking advantage of other options?

Some may simply crave the cultural experience of standing in line with other Apple fans as much as they relish the chance to actually use the product.

As one consumer told the Associated Press on Friday, “I don’t think it’s worth the price, but I guess I’m a victim of society.”

One famous Apple fan who stood in line for Apple’s new iPad was the company’s co-founder Steve Wozniak. The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama reports:

Apple’s new iPad is on shelves today at Apple stores across the country. Among those already in line for the updated tablet? Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The avid Foursquare user, checked-in at a Los Angeles mall on Thursday afternoon.

“Starting a line for the new iPad tomorrow,” Wozniak tweeted.

But people waiting to get their hands on the new tablets weren’t the only ones present outside the Apple stores. Protesters in Washington, San Francisco and other cities around the world came out to remind Apple-goers that the company’s gadgets come from factories that have been criticized for poor labor practices, Tsukayama reports:

Apple has been the target of criticism over the labor practices of members of its supply chain in the past — criticism that has only grown stronger since a series of media reports have made reported problems at Foxconn and Pegatron a public focus.

The protests at stores today were organized by the same group that mobilized consumers to deliver two online petitions from Change.org and SumofUs.org, with a combined 250,000 signatures, to Apple employees at stores in Washington, New York, San Francisco, London, Sydney and Bangalore. Dozens showed up to protest the conditions reported in Apple’s factories around the world.

On Friday, the protests were fairly subdued. Change.org spokewsoman Sarah Ryan said that there were about a dozen protesters at each location to hand out cards with comments from those who signed the petitions.

“The Apple store employees were all very welcoming of the protesters and didn’t make any moves to push them away or quiet them,” Ryan said.

Still, protesters were far outnumbered by those eager to buy Apple’s new iPad at stores participating in today’s global launch. Wired reported that a “small handful” of protesters showed up at New York’s Grand Central Apple store. Two protesters at the Georgetown Apple store held a banner that read: “250,000+ to Apple. Think Different. Think Ethical.”