Many queued for the love of iPad. Some queued for money. In among the fanatic Apple fans and the techno-geeks desperate to be among the first in the world to get their hands on the third generation of iPads, there were were people being paid to queue on behalf of traders bent on out-manoeuvring the company's sales plans.
Apple had set a rule that each customer would be allowed to buy no more than 2 of the electronic tablets. But this proved little impediment to those who really wanted more. The new version of the device was released yesterday in 10 countries, leaving fans in many other parts of the world willing to pay premium prices. This provided enough of a lure for entrepeneurs – some called them black-market traders – to pay scores of people to queue for them.
Groups of dealers at stores in London were able to walk off with armfuls of iPads after organising buyers, having provided them with the cash and taken receipts. One dealer said: "I hope to get around 70 iPads today. I will be sending them on to India. The guys who are queuing get £10 or £20 for a day's work. This is not illegal."
Among the professional queuers, however, were genuine fans. Some had been queuing for days to ensure they were among the first to be served.
Yesterday's rapturous reception of the new iPad will have gone some way to persuading the company's investors that Apple can sustain the mastery of the tech industry that it achieved under Steve Jobs' leadership. Apple remains the world's most valuable company, with a market cap of nearly $555bn. On Thursday, its stock touched $600 (£381) for the first time.
The new product itself is an upgrade, rather than a new launch. The processor is faster, it works with 4G mobile phone networks, and a new "Retina Display" makes the visuals noticeably sharper. The device's camera has been upgraded to five megapixels and new voice-dictation software comes as standard. Combine that with a continued commitment to the epoch-defining aesthetic ideals of British designer Jonathan Ive and it's no surprise that early reviews have been gushing in their praise.
For the thousands queuing in Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, London and New York, the incentives were obvious.
"If you work in the media, you have to have Apple products," said Mim Bala, a 26-year-old Londoner who works in broadcasting. "People will laugh at you if you don't. My boss said what swayed it for me in my interview was he saw me take an iPhone out of my pocket."
Bala does not describe himself as a fanatic, but he did leave a bitten apple outside an Apple store in New York on the day that Jobs died.
Judging by the crowd outside the Regent Street store, it would appear that the cult of Apple is also snaring an older generation. David Treadway, 62, who also works in broadcasting, said that he was a recent but committed convert. "My family all had Apple products, which led me to try the MacBook computer – it was an improvement on Windows," he said. "I wanted to do the 'Apple experience', so I came down on the first day. I'm not one of those types who elevates the company to messianic levels, but I do think the products are excellent."
Ranging in price from £399 to £659, the new iPad was not cheap, according to some customers, but many seemed convinced by it. "It's steep," said Torsten Thiel, a 45-year-old financier, "but it's worth it."
Apple has sold around 55 million iPads since the first version launched in 2010. Rival tablet computers have since emerged, developed by competitors such as BlackBerry, Amazon and Samsung, but the iPad still commands up to 60 per cent of the market, according to industry estimates.