Apple fans across Las Vegas, U.S. take a bite out of new iPad tablet computers

SEATTLE — Now that the iPad is in the hands of early adopters, the hard work for Apple Inc. begins.

Eager customers intent on being among the first owners of this new class of gadgetry stood in long lines across the country Saturday. They seemed willing to buy first — and discover uses for the iPad later.

In some ways, it was reminiscent of the lines and hoopla surrounding the 2007 launch of the first iPhone. The difference: People knew then that the iPhone would replace their existing cell phone, an appliance that has become a must-have for everyone from uber-geeks to stay-at-home moms.

With the iPad, which fits somewhere between phone and computer, Apple must convince people who already have smart phones, laptops, e-book readers, set-top boxes and home broadband connections that they need another device that serves many of the same purposes.

Many of the earliest iPad buyers say they will have a better idea of what they’ll use it for only after they’ve had it for a while.

That didn’t stop them from imagining, though.

Beth Goza has had iPhones and other smart phones, along with a MacBook Air laptop, yet she believes the iPad has a place in her digital lineup. She likened it to a professional tennis player owning different sneakers for grass, clay and concrete courts.

"At the end of the day, you can get by with one or the other," she said outside an Apple store in Seattle’s University Village mall.

But she clearly doesn’t want to just "get by." She’s already dreaming up specific uses for her iPad, such as knitting applications to help her keep track of her place in a complicated pattern.

Danita Shneidman, a woman in her 60s, wanted one to look at photos and videos of her first grandchild, born this week in Boston.

And then there’s Ray Majewski, who went to an Apple store in Freehold, N.J., with his 10-year-old daughter, Julia. The iPad is partly as a reward for her straight A’s in school, and partly a present for himself.

"I like the electronic books, and my daughter is really getting into them as well," Majewski said. "I was thinking of getting a Kindle (e-book reader) but then said to myself, ‘Why not get an iPad because I can get so much more from that than just reading books?’"

The iPad is essentially a much larger version of Apple’s popular iPhone, without the calling capabilities. Just a half-inch thick, the device has a touch screen that measures 9.7 inches on the diagonal – nearly three times the iPhone’s. Also like the iPhone, it has no physical keyboard.

For now, Apple is selling iPads that only connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi. Those models start at $499. Versions that also have a cellular data connection will be available by the end of the month. They will cost $130 more, with the most expensive at $829.

In Apple stores in Seattle and on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the atmosphere was festive, with employees cheering and clapping as customers entered and left. One kid arrived at a San Francisco store in a homemade iPad costume.

Some analysts had predicted the gadget would sell out on Saturday. Although there didn’t seem to be problems with supply at Apple stores, two Best Buy stores in the Washington, D.C., area didn’t have iPads in stock for sale when they opened.

People could also "pre-order" iPads online to arrive Saturday. Prasad Thammineni did just that, but had to chase the UPS guy down the block from his office in Cambridge, Mass., to get his iPad.

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