Technophiles mobbed Apple Stores in Europe and Asia on Friday in a quest to snatch up the hottest gadget of the moment - the iPad.
Long lines snaked down streets in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Tokyo as eager buyers vied to wield their credit cards. Screams and cheers rose from the crowd in central London as students, professionals and self-proclaimed computer geeks clutched boxes containing the slim black device.
"If I was a music fan, it would be like the launch of a Lady GaGa album in the U.S.," said comedian Stephen Fry, known in Britain as a champion Tweeter.
Apple Inc., based in Cupertino, California, said earlier this month that it had sold 1 million of the devices in the United States in 28 days. The company started taking orders for the iPad abroad on May 10 after pushing back its international delivery target amid extreme demand at home.
The computer looks like a larger version of Apple's iPhone and can be used to send e-mails, draw pictures and play games. It is also seen as a potential savior of the struggling newspaper industry, because it can be used as an electronic reader. In Britain, prices for the iPad range from 429 pounds to 699 pounds ($624 to $1,017). But the rollout has not been without its problems. A string of suicides at a Chinese factory that churns out iPads and other high-tech items has raised concerns about conditions for workers who face tremendous time pressures and harsh discipline for mistakes.
In response, Apple issued a statement expressing commitment to ensuring that conditions "throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity."
The bad publicity did not hurt launches in Europe and Asia. Besides Britain, the device was unveiled Friday in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and Switzerland. At the Apple Store in Frankfurt, Germany, hundreds lined up - including a few who arrived as early as 3 a.m. Some said they'd arrived so early not because they wanted to own it first - but simply to get an iPad at all.
By 8 a.m., some 450 people squealed as Apple employees inside lowered a black curtain and began applauding. The glass doors swung open and people who had been given numbered tickets while waiting in line were let in by security to buy the device.
"I'm a bit embarrassed to be part of the masses, but the thing is, tonight it's going to be sold out," one man, who was not identified, told AP Television News.
One Madrid store sold out its iPads in less than three hours but would not say how many had been delivered.
Araceli Sanchez was attracted by the iPad's clean, smart appearance and some of its applications, "particularly the one that lets you see the stars and constellations in the sky wherever you are."
In Tokyo, about 1,200 people lined up in the famous Ginza shopping district, chanting a countdown ahead of the store's 8 a.m. opening. Excited buyers gushed over the tablets, saying they couldn't wait to start using them.
In Paris, at the Apple Store in the commercial gallery underneath the Louvre, Cara Garisch, 26, a software developer from South Africa, said she planned to use it to read newspapers and surf the Web.
"It's magic," she said. "Even my mom can use it."