Apple's official UK iPad launch was greeted on Friday by queues of hundreds of customers at some Apple stores, following delays to the release date due to greater-than-expected demand in the US.
Several hundred customers queued outside of Apple's flagship shop in Regent Street for the web tablet, which sold more than one million units in its first 28 days of availability in the US.
Joseph Grech set a record by typing the alphabet on the tablet in 6.61 seconds. Photo credit: Guinness World Records
Shorter queues were also spotted at other Apple Stores, including an overnight queue at the Westfield shopping centre in the London suburb of White City. In the UK, Apple stores opened an hour early — at 8am — to sell the iPad. Currys and PC World are also stocking the device at 139 outlets.
On Thursday, some users reported receiving pre-ordered iPads in the post a day early, according to user updates on Twitter. However, mobile operators O2 and Orange did not activate their iPad support until Friday, meaning users had to wait a day to get full connectivity.
The iPad was initially expected to launch in the UK in late March, but the date was successively pushed back to late April, then late May, due to shortages in the US. Online sales in the UK, which were also planned for Friday, have been pushed back to 7 June.
The Regent Street store saw Stephen Fry turn up to pick up and iPad and mingle with fellow Apple fans. The queue also contained Joseph Grech, who set a record by typing the alphabet on the tablet in 6.61 seconds, according to the Guinness World Records organisation. Also in line were world's tallest married couple, Keisha and Wilco van Kleef-Bolton.
At the Westfield store, the first in the queue was a woman who had sent her son to wait overnight, a security manager for the shopping centre told ZDNet UK. The mother then took his place at 7:45am, just before the shop opened.
The iPad is initially designed primarily as a consumer device, offering the ability to function as a netbook, e-book reader, gaming device, photo frame and music player. It includes Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-Fi, movie rentals and 10 hours of battery life, with optional mobile broadband available on higher-end models. It connects to the same popular App Store that supplies software for the iPhone.
Apple has said it intends the iPad for business use as well, with features such as built-in support for Microsoft Exchange, secure access to corporate data and a developer programme focused on enterprise needs.
Industry observers have said they expect strong sales of the device in the UK, despite criticisms including the lack of a camera, limited multitasking, lack of support for Adobe's Flash and lack of a HD video output. UK prices start at £429 before VAT for the lowest-spec iPad, a modest premium on US prices, which start at $499 (£342).
Friday saw the official retail launch of the iPad in Europe, Australia and Japan, as well as the UK. Countries outside the US are likely to make up 43 percent of iPad shipments this year, or 3.5 million units, compared with a predicted 4.7 million units in the US, said RBC analyst Mike Abramsky in a report published last week. France is expected to be the iPad's second-largest market, with 805,000 units to be sold this year, followed by the UK with 585,000 units, Abramsky predicted.
The iPad and similar devices are expected to fuel "absolutely phenomenal" mobile data growth, according to executives at the Open Mobile Summit in London this week. Apple's tablet alone is expected to spark a sixfold increase in worldwide shipments of such computers to 46 million in 2014, up from 7.6 million this year, according to a report by IDC earlier this month.
BT and O2 will both bring out medium-sized tablet devices later this year to compete with Apple's device, the communications providers have said.
Customers wait in the iPad queue at London's Westfield shopping centre. Photo credit: Karen Friar