Apple to open stores at 8 a.m. Friday for iPad sales

Opening early to accommodate expected rush of customers stymied by long shipping delays

Apple will open its retail stores in 10 countries, including the U.S., at 8 a.m. local time to accommodate buyers of the new iPad, the company said officially today in a statement.

Earlier, Apple's website had displayed a short message that its retail stores would open their doors at 8 a.m., or one to two hours earlier than usual.

The new iPad -- Apple has eschewed a number naming convention for the third-generation tablet -- will hit retail in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and the U.K. on Friday, March 16. Also on the list, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Other U.S. outlets, including electronics chains Best Buy and Radio Shack, as well as big-box stores Sam's Club, Target and Wal-Mart, will also start selling the new iPad Friday.

And some mobile carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, will stock and sell the more-expensive 4G models -- they start at $629 for a 16GB device -- through their websites.

As it has with other mobile product launches, Apple is offering a free setup service for U.S. customers who purchase an iPad at a company store, where workers will configure email, set up the "Find My iPad" service and download new apps from the App Store for buyers.

Although Apple has exhausted its online supply available for delivery this week -- the current wait time before shipping is two to three weeks in all markets -- iPad orders can be placed for at-home or at-work delivery, or set for pick-up at a nearby Apple store.

The company has not yet created a reservation system for iPad purchases similar to what it created last October during the iPhone 4S launch, but if supplies remain tight, it may turn to that process for in-store purchases of the new tablet.

The reservation system used last year required customers to check iPhone 4S availability after 9 p.m. local time, and if a suitable model was in stock, to request a hold on the product, which had to be picked up at an Apple store the next day.

Apple has priced the new iPad at $499 to $699 for the Wi-Fi model, and $629 to $829 for the Wi-Fi/4G tablet. It also continues to sell 2011's iPad 2 at a discounted price of $399 for Wi-Fi, $529 for 3G.

On March 23, the company will launch the new tablet in an additional 25 countries, among them Czech Republic, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

Apple's new iPad features a Retina display, LTE connectivity, and more -- but is it advanced enough to stay ahead of rivals?

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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