I got to the Apple Store at Walt Whitman Mall at about 8:30 AM and the mall doors were open. There were already about 150 people waiting for their iPad, and the Apple Store folks had two lines set up: one for advance reservations and one for walk-ins.
As a pre-order customer, I gave my name to a blue-shirted Apple person and was told to wait on the reservation line. For each 10 people with a reservation they would let in one person without, so perhaps they had something of a handle on inventory. There was coffee and water to be had while waiting and a quick look inside the store showed so many Apple workers that I couldn't imagine how any customers would fit. At ten minutes to opening, a huge crowd of blue shirts ran up and down the mall screaming at the top of their lungs to pump up the crowd, but we didn't need pumping up. Everyone was really psyched already.
I talked to a few people while waiting to get in, and I met someone named Theo who had a real reason for buying an iPad: He's a DJ and wanted to use it to kick off videos while performing. Most everyone else had vague answers about why they were there, ranging from, "it just seems really cool," to "I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but I need one."
Promptly at 9am, people were let into the store in small groups and the store had the system down to a science. I was met by an Apple Store employee named James, who walked me through the three-minute buying process. Then he brought me to another guy, who plugged in the new iPad and activated it in about 30 seconds.
Next, I was asked if I wanted help setting up my email. Although I didn't need it, I wanted to get the whole experience, and was led to a couch outside the store and paired up with Dawn who ran me through exactly the same set-up as on the iPhone. She told me that the first time she had gotten her hands on an iPad was at about 8am, and she didn't know that it could handle IMAP mailboxes or how to set up more than one mail account. The training must have been brief. Not a problem, though, since managers were everywhere and one of them answered her questions immediately. Dawn was really excited about the device and we chatted for about five minutes about the potential of the iPad and how it was going to change everything. The total time from entering the store to walking to my car was 28 minutes.
When I got it home, I found the box contained a USB cable, a 10 watt power supply and not a shred of instruction. In this case, who needs it? As everyone well knows, if you can run an iPhone or iPod touch, you can run one of these, and the system set up at the store to offer help to anyone who asked was a great idea.
It's still syncing, but I did find something a bit odd with how it handles music from your iTunes library. It pays no attention to songs that you've checked or unchecked. Instead you are shown a screen that lets you either import all your songs, or just selected playlists, artists and genres that you choose from a listing showing your genius mixes, playlists, genres and a list of all the artists in your library. Checking or unchecking is done here on the playlist menu rather than song by song. You also have the option of automatically filling all free space. To get specific albums or songs onto the iPad you'll need to build playlists.
I'll be working with the iPad throughout the day -- stay tuned here on TUAW for more iPad information all weekend long.
Here's a fairly rough video of what went on.