Eager iPad shoppers had to wait a few hours last night for a chance to be one of the first to get their hands on Apple's new tablet.
But the earliest owners weren't those who were first to pre-order the tablet last week. And they weren't waiting outside Apple stores--they were waiting inside Wal-Mart stores, which got the jump on Apple by releasing the third-generation iPad a full eight hours before Apple stores even opened.
And if you didn't arrive early, chances are you weren't going to get one of the new tablets. At a Wal-Mart in the San Francisco Bay Area, dozens of people stood in line for hours after getting tickets that ostensibly guaranteed them the opportunity to buy the new iPad. CNET's Eric Franklin, who showed up hours before the midnight release, had an excellent view of the action at the end of the line, holding ticket No. 39.
With only 40 iPads in stock, the store turned away dozens of disappointed shoppers. But that didn't stop a few optimistic die-hards from joining the back of the line without a ticket. "You never know--maybe someone's credit card won't work," said one shopper.
Reasons for wanting an iPad seemed to vary. Many people in line said they were buying them for personal use, while others said they hoped to resell the in-demand device for a profit. One woman, who happened to be in the store as a casual shopper, said she heard the loud-speaker announcements regarding the sale and decided on a whim to get in line with the intention of flipping her purchase. However, the more she heard her line-mates excitedly talking about the iPad, the more convinced she became that she wanted to keep it for herself.
Perhaps most intriguing were a pair who claimed to be iOS developers who said they were in line to buy the device as a gift, but they said they couldn't talk too much about it or their work.
Wal-Mart announced Thursday afternoon that its 24-hour stores would begin selling the new iPad at 12:01 a.m., although supplies would be "limited."
Wal-Mart noted that it will sell the 16GB Wi-Fi model in black or white for $499, and the last-generation iPad 2 for $399. Wal-Mart stores that aren't open around the clock will start selling iPads during their normal business hours.
Standing in line was likely the only way shoppers can get their hands on the iPad before next week. Those who pre-ordered the iPad learned last week that they would have to wait an additional three days after the brick-and-mortar release date to receive their purchases.
But the shopping frenzy isn't over. When Apple stores open at 8 a.m. local time to sell the iPad in nine countries, including the U.S. and two U.S. territories, CNET's crew of reporters and photographers will be on hand.
We will be at the cube on Fifth Avenue to document the expected long lines and protesters. We'll also have coverage from Apple's new Grand Central store in New York, as well from our reporters in San Francisco and Palo Alto, Calif., and Paris, too.