Apple Inc's iPad hit store shelves around the world this morning, with buyers storming shops in the UK and Japan to be among the first to snap up the long-awaited tablet computer.

Apple will also launch the iPad, which has a 9.7-inch color touchscreen for surfing the web, watching movies, playing games and reading e-books, in Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Canada on Friday.

At Apple's flagship store in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, about 1,200 people lined up before the store opened at 8 a.m.

"I wanted to touch it as soon as possible. I felt a true excitement when it was finally in my hands," said Takechiyo Yamanaka, a 19-year-old who camped out in front of the Ginza store from Wednesday evening to be the first in line.

Apple has sold a million iPads in the U.S. since its 3 April debut, exceeding even the most bullish pre-launch estimates. Demand was so heavy that the company had to delay the international roll-out by a month.

Enthusiasm in Japan is good news for Apple as international sales are increasingly important for the maker of the Macintosh computer and iPhone.

On Wednesday, Apple shot past Microsoft as the world's biggest technology company based on market value, the latest milestone in the resurgence of the maker of the iPhone, which nearly went out of business in the 1990s.

Apple gets almost three-fifths of its revenue from overseas now, and is seeing stunning growth in Europe and Asia.

"It seems like initial demand, at least that we've checked, was just as strong as it was in the U.S.," Andy Hargreaves, a U.S.-based analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, said ahead of iPad's launch in overseas markets.

"It's a little bit hard to say because there's still going to be supply constraint, but I'm expecting them to sell every single thing they can ship."

On Tuesday, Dell readied for its battle with iPad by unveiling its Streak tablet computer that can double as a mobile phone and will have a front-facing camera for videoconferencing.

Sony said on Thursday it would launch an e-reader in Japan by year-end, taking on Apple's iPad.