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Local Apple fans eagerly swipe first iPads

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

BUFORD -- When Michael May's family woke him up at 5:30 a.m. Saturday to sing him "Happy Birthday," he was confused. His 11th birthday isn't until April 29.

But when he realized the reason for the early celebration, Michael said he started "freaking out."

His family was taking him to the Apple Store at the Mall of Georgia to purchase an iPad, a tablet-style computer that allows users to read electronic books, watch video and run myriad useful or fun applications, including Scrabble. Apple Inc. began selling the much-anticipated device Saturday.

"He begged us to reserve it," said his mother, Wendy May of Lilburn.

His parents did, but to surprise their son, they told him they couldn't make the reservation in time.

Standing outside the store, Michael showed off "one of the coolest things I've ever seen." Before he left the store, he downloaded an electronic version of "Old Yeller," a book he has to read for school.

The iPad is essentially a much larger version of Apple's popular iPhone, without the calling capabilities. The new device is a half-inch thick, weighs 1.5 pounds and 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, but sports an accelerometer, which lets users tilt the device to control what's happening on the screen.

"They're so cool," Michael said. "I'm a tech freak for all this stuff."

For now, Apple is selling versions of the iPad that can 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.

Scores of people lined up outside many Apple Stores and Best Buy outlets well before the iPads went on sale. At the Mall of Georgia, about 100 people were in line when the store opened at 9 a.m.

Dacula resident Rob Lowman, who arrived at the mall at 6 a.m., was the first in line at the Buford store.

"I am a long, long, longtime Apple supporter," Lowman said. "I have been waiting for Apple to come out with a tablet forever."

Lawrenceville resident Kevin Dixon said he owns an iPhone, a couple of iPods and 11 Apple computers, but he was in line to purchase an iPad because he thinks it will offer a different experience.

"I know the iPod was an incredible hit, and I think this is going to change things as well," he said.

Although Apple is adept at generating frenetic buzz for not-yet-released products, it may have to work extra hard once the initial iPad excitement settles. Many companies have tried to sell tablet computers before, but none have caught on with mainstream consumers.

Apple will need to persuade people who may already have smart phones, laptops, set-top boxes and home broadband connections to buy yet another Internet-capable device with many of the same functions.

And while early adopters who preordered an iPad in recent weeks gush about all the ways they hope to use the iPad -- casual Web searches on the couch, sharing photo albums with friends, reading books -- skeptics point to all the ways the iPad comes up short.

They argue the on-screen keyboard is hard to use and complain that it lacks a camera and ports for media storage cards and USB devices such as printers. They also bemoan the fact that the iPad can't play Flash video, which means many Web sites with embedded video clips will look broken to Web surfers using Apple's Safari browser. And the iPad can't run more than one program at a time, which even fans hope will change one day soon.

Lowman said he was disappointed the iPad was not equipped with a camera, but that wasn't going to stop him from enjoying his new gadget.

"I plan to get it synched in the car on the way home," he said, "then get on the couch and play for a couple of hours."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.