iPad-mania as thousands queue for global roll-out

Thousands of die-hard Apple fans mobbed shops in parts of Europe and Asia on Friday after the iPad, touted as a revolution in personal computing, began its global launch.

Long queues of customers snaked outside Apple shops in Australia and Japan hours before the opening and similar huddled masses of gadget lovers turned out at stores in six European countries including Britain and France.

The iPad - a flat, 10-inch (25-centimetre) black tablet - was also going on sale in Canada as part of a global roll-out that was pushed back by a month due to huge demand in the United States.

One million iPads were sold in 28 days after the product's US debut in early April, forcing the firm to delay its foreign launch.

At Apple's flagship store in Paris, set in the prestigious underground mall of the Louvre museum, 24-year-old engineer Audrey Sobgou beamed as she walked away with one of the prized tablets.

Sobgou travelled 205 kilometres (127 miles) from her home town in Lille, northern France, and waited nearly two hours before stepping inside the busy Apple store to make her purchase.

"I'm not a victim of hype," she insisted. "I know Apple products and it's about the quality, the interface, how it's designed and what it can do. With elegance and style."

Hundreds of people had already queued outside of the Paris Apple store hours before it opened at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) and the launch made the frontpage of major newspapers.

The freesheet Metro daily in Paris showed a full-page picture of the tablet under the polemical question "iPad: gadget or revolution?".

About 40 enthusiasts were already waiting outside the flagship Apple store in central London, at 3:00 am (0200 GMT) Friday to get their hands on the iPad when the store opened at 8:00 am.

Most of them were sitting on deck chairs and some were wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets.

Staff escorted the first group of customers one by one up to buy their iPad after they opened the doors, whooping, chanting and cheering.

"I queued overnight for about 20 hours since midday yesterday but it was very, very worth it," Jake Lee, a 17-year-old student from Essex, told AFP, clutching his treasured iPad.

"I wanted the iPad since it was announced, I'm just really excited about it," he told AFP.

The iPad also went on sale in Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland and will be followed in July by a launch in Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

About 30 people waited under a driving rain in Frankfurt outside the Apple store while 19-year-old student Claudio Roccario was among some one hundred customers waiting to buy his iPad in Milan.

"I wanted to be among the first," he said, echoing the sentiment of most die-hard Apple fans who turned out for the first day of the launch.

Many Apple aficionados in Zurich camped out overnight in front of the store to be among the first to buy the tablet and download some of the 5,000 available apps.

Prices in Japan and Australia for the basic 16GB iPad are comparable to US prices, once sales tax is included, although a significant markup by Apple in Britain and continental Europe has triggered some grumbling.

In France, wifi models sell for between 499 and 699 euros (620 and 969 dollars) with the 3G models going for between 599 and 799 euros.

The multi-functional device is tipped by some pundits to revitalise media and publishing, with many major newspapers and broadcasters launching applications.

Newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch has said the iPad has the potential to save the newspaper industry but in France, that enthusiasm is not shared by President Nicolas Sarkozy's minister for the digital economy.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet last month dismissed the "marketing frenzy" surrounding the iPad launch and declared that it was "a bit heavy" compared to the Archos tablet, made in France.

Other than the five other European countries, California-based Apple plans to bring the iPad to Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore in July.

Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky estimated that Apple is selling more than 200,000 iPads a week - more than estimated Mac computer sales of 110,000 a week, and vying with iPhone 3GS sales of 246,000 a week.

Apple has declined to reveal the number of pre-orders received for the iPad internationally, but Abramsky put it at around 600,000.

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