COLUMBIA — At about 4:30 p.m. Friday, more than 70 people waited in line outside Best Buy hoping to be one of the lucky 20 to receive a "golden" special ticket — not to gain admittance to a chocolate factory but to be among the first people in Columbia to buy an Apple iPad 2.
After nine days of hype, they were set to go on sale at 5 p.m.
Before Best Buy was open, Alex Aslanidis and his niece Melanie Bond were the first two people in line at 9 a.m. Friday morning.
Aslanidis is used to waiting in line for his Apple products. He waited in line for hours for his iPhone at the AT&T store when it was released, too.
But Bond wasn’t buying the iPad 2 for herself.
“It’s a surprise for my husband. It’s his birthday in three weeks,” she said.
Bond’s husband is serving his second tour in Iraq, and has been there since Oct. 27. Because it takes about one-and-a-half to two weeks to send a package overseas, Bond was planning on mailing the iPad 2, along with the new magnetic Smart Cover the same evening she bought it.
But with stores unable to release information on the quantity of iPads they had in stock, more than two-thirds of the people waiting in line were disappointed when employees began handing out the tickets that ensured a customer the ability to purchase the iPad 2 when they officially went on sale.
As Best Buy employees came down the line formed outside the store, Denise Rohrer was the first person they reached when they ran out of tickets to give away. She was waiting in line for more than an hour.
Rohrer’s husband is a software developer and highly suggested she wait until the new model came out before buying an iPad.
But unlike Aslanidis, Rohrer doesn’t own any Apple products.
“For me, it’s just perfect. I don’t own an iPhone, and it just will do everything I need it to,” she said. “I just had a birthday on March 7, and I wanted to try out the new iPad for my birthday.”
Rohrer and more than 50 other people who left Best Buy empty-handed were not alone.
“For a product that is this high in demand, the initial shipment is almost never enough to meet the full demand that people want, but we do anticipate being able to get all of the people who want one, an iPad, within the next couple weeks,” Best Buy operations manager Ben Cox said.
The MacXprts Network, a national chain of authorized Apple resellers, is headquartered in Columbia, also offered a limited quantity of the iPad 2.
“Most of our customers are pretty Apple-savvy, and they kind of know the drill. They kind of know that there will be limited stock everywhere. We will most definitely be sold out within minutes,” Duane Burghard, chairman and founder of The MacXprts Network, said.
Burghard said his store instituted a waiting list when the iPad 2 was announced on March 2.
Many of the authorized iPad vendors, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless stores in Columbia, did not have any in stock when the product went on sale at 5 p.m.
“We’ve had several customers come into the store today and ask about it,” Verizon store manager James Rose said.
Rose and Verizon public relations manager Brenda Hill said they hope Verizon might be able to complete direct deliveries faster than the three week mark, though.
“I think when most people start to look for an iPad they go to the Apple website. Without that initial rush coming to us, we might have a wider availability,” Rose said.
Though it has been less than a year since the original iPad’s release, Apple has found high demand for this lighter, thinner and faster iPad 2.
“The A5 chip is substantially faster than the chip that was in the original iPad. It has the front- and rear-facing covers. It’s thinner, it’s lighter, and it comes in two different colors,” Burghard said.
The first Wi-Fi model iPad was released on April 3, 2010, and the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G model was released later that month.
Since this initial release, the iPad is already dominating the market for tablets. Wired magazine reported that in the fourth quarter of 2010, Apple captured three-quarters of the tablet market. Early estimates of tablet sales for 2011 project that 80 percent of tablets sold will be iPads.
Competitors like the Android-operated Samsung Galaxy Tablet and Motorola Xoom have had trouble taking a bite out of Apple’s market share.
Aslanidis said he is an “Apple man,” and that is the reason he chose the iPad over its competitors.
The iPad's release could also forecast a drop in general laptop sales in the coming years. According to the Economist, technology research company Gartner cut its projection of world growth in laptop sales from 25 percent to less than 15 percent after Apple’s March 2 announcement.
“What’s really great about the iPad is that it’s created a market. It fits the space between a laptop and a cell phone,” Burghard said.
When he received his receipt at 5:04 p.m., Aslanidis, a filmmaker and photographer, was the first person to walk out of the store as the owner of a new iPad 2.
“What better way is there to show your clients your work?” he said.
But for some, the tablet does not yet pose a threat to their laptop.
Cox does not own an iPad and has no intention of buying the new model.
“I have a MacBook Pro that does everything I need it to do,” he said.
And despite the conspicuous new line of ticket-holders that formed to purchase an iPad 2 inside Best Buy, some shoppers didn’t know that March 11 had any significance whatsoever.
Among these shoppers was Patsy Weldon who was perusing the digital cameras across the store from where the iPads were being rung out.
“They’re a little out of my price range,” Weldon said of the iPad 2, which had a starting price of $499.
“I’d love to have one. But I’m retired, and I’m on a budget,” she said.