Apple die-hards in Asia became the first to snap up the new iPad on Friday, but compared with the scramble at the firm’s past launches the response was muted for a device that is short of new technology.
Those who queued in Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore heaped praise on the improved display, which Apple says is the best ever on a mobile device.
And few seemed concerned that the much-touted 4G LTE connection would even be largely unavailable outside North America.
Apple’s online shop in the US quickly sold out of iPads for delivery on Friday and began telling buyers they will have to wait several weeks.
Despite the anticipation, the excitement surrounding earlier releases was largely absent, with the crush seen in Hong Kong for the iPhone 4S reduced to a fraction and Tokyo’s long queue all but gone by mid-morning.
Some die-hard Apple fans queued overnight, with around 50 camping out in Tokyo. But in Sydney, where the planet’s first sales began, only one person had taken his place by mid-afternoon Thursday — and he was being paid to be there.
Those that did make an effort declared themselves pleased with their purchase.
Ryo Takahashi, 25, who arrived at the Tokyo store wearing a head band saying “I am an iPad samurai!” said the new Retina display was a good enough reason to queue up.
“Once you start using the Retina display, you just cannot go back to the old one.”
University student Ryo Watanabe was first to claim his prize.
“I am so excited. I finally got it. I waited for this for 36 hours,” he said as he emerged from the store. “I have an iPad2 and use it all the time at school. I am looking forward to the clear display,” he said.
The new tablet is being released in Australia, the United States, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Britain and Hong Kong on Friday.
Anticipation ahead of the launch saw Apple shares briefly top $600 for the first time on Wall Street Thursday before closing at $585.56. The stock has gained more than 50 percent in the past three months.
In Singapore there were cheers when the authorised reseller stocking the iPad opened its doors, with staff handing out t-shirts emblazoned with “I GOT MY NEW IPAD”.
At the plush Hong Kong Apple store, which had seen chaotic scenes for previous Apple product releases, around 200 buyers who had reserved online were allowed to queue outside.
“I was afraid I could not get the new iPad since I only made my reservation yesterday but I made it, and I bought two, one for my boyfriend,” programmer Annie, who refused to give her last name, said.
The launch of the iPhone 4S in November saw more than 1,500 fans and resellers camping outside the Hong Kong store days before release, with police called in to control the crowd.
Australia was the first place to get the new device — for which Apple has abandoned its numbering system, opting to call it simply the “new iPad” instead of the expected “iPad3″.
Several hundred people gathered outside the company’s Sydney store when it opened at 8:00 am local time (2100 GMT Thursday).
However, the hype for Friday’s launch was not on the scale seen for iPad2, when people began camping out up to four days before.
Former truck driver Steve Parkes was the lone early bird, beginning his vigil on Monday after being offered Aus$950 (US$1,000) by a jobs site to line up wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the employment company’s logo.
The new tablet has generated good reviews worldwide but Rob Livingstone, an IT expert at Sydney’s University of Technology, said its success could be short-lived.
“It’s like any other technology, there’s always better, faster, sharper, newer five minutes after you’ve purchased the product you’ve just purchased, and the iPad’s no different,” he told AFP.
Pranabesh Nath, research manager with Frost and Sullivan consultancy said Apple could probably expect to sell up to 70 million new iPads, with 15-20 percent of them in the Asia-Pacific market.
While the almost cult-like status of Apple shows no signs of waning among consumers, he suggested that with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs now dead the momentum could start to taper off.
Jobs, the mind behind the wildly popular iPod, iPad and iPhone devices, died in October after battling pancreatic cancer.