Jake Lee knew he would have a long, cold night ahead – but wasn’t troubled: the 17-year-old from Theydon Bois, Essex had his father’s thick coat – plus the assurance of being the first to buy an Apple iPad at the company’s Regent Street store in London when it opens its doors at 8am tomorrow.
“I didn’t order online because I wanted to get the experience of buying it, of being in the queue,” said Lee, who has been saving from his part-time job after school “for months” to be able to afford the £429 low-end version.
Yet judging by the length – or brevity – of the queue outside the store, which by mid-afternoon comprised just five people, Apple’s latest offering – a 9-inch touchscreen tablet computer operated like its hit iPhone – is not drawing the crowds in the same way as previous product launches, which attracted scores of patient buyers.
However, online demand has apparently been strong: Apple was this week warning people who ordered iPads through its website that delivery may be put back to 7 June. It has already delayed the international launch of the iPad, which Steve Jobs showed off in January, by a month after strong sales in the US used up production capacity. So far it has sold more than 1m of the machines, which means it is already the single largest maker of tablet computers this year – capturing a market that Bill Gates, of Microsoft, tried and failed to create and corner in 2001.
Sales in the US have outstripped expectations , where the 1m mark was reached only 28 days after the 2 April launch, compared with 74 days for the iPhone.
Peter Buckley, the British author of the Rough Guide to the iPad, who has been using a US-bought model for the past five weeks, says that while it cannot replace a laptop machine for producing content, it is an ideal machine for a new era of “sofa computing”.
Critics have focused on the price, which ranges from £429 to £699, and point out that “netbook” computers with full keyboards are available for about £350.
There has also been criticism of Apple’s use of the Chinese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, where 10 people have apparently committed suicide this year due to work pressure. Simon Middleton, a brand expert, said: “I think we need to call on Apple to take the leadership role in its sector and to form a coalition of companies who would specify, monitor and maintain the highest standards of worker conditions: and to insist that the suppliers they deal with comply.” Foxconn workers claim that they have to work up to 15-hour shifts, and that the company has put up a huge safety net around the factory to prevent roof suicides.
Rival companies are also looking to build on Apple’s lead by launching their own tablet machines: the Joojoo, made by the Thailand-based Fusion Garage, launched in April, while HP is expected to launch models later this year using Palm’s WebOS software, having acquired the company last month. Other companies including Archos are also expected to launch tablets built on Google’s Android or Chrome software.
Buckley says that the success of the rivals “will depend on how quickly software developers feel compelled to develop apps for it. The draw of the iPad is partly to do with Apple’s design – but also that developers are working to write software for the platform.”
The success of the iPhone has accelerated as its App Store, opened in July 2008, has grown to offer more than 180,000 third-party applications, which have had more than 4bn downloads.
For the iPad, many have been rewritten to take advantage of its larger screen – including magazines such as Condé Nast’s Wired and GQ magazines, which have special £2.99 iPad electronic editions. The US version of the iPad Wired sold 24,000 copies in its first day, generating $120,000.
While those figures were being announced, Chris Thompson, a motor racing memorabilia dealer from Epsom, was taking his place at the end of the iPad queue. Why wait? “Well, patience is a virtue,” he replied. “I’ve come for the atmosphere. It’s more fun being outside here than sitting at home looking out the window waiting for a van to come.”