Apple's iPad pre-sale begins Friday

Apple will accept orders, reservations for Jobs' 'magical' gizmo

Tomorrow's the first on-sale day for Apple's iPad, the tablet-styled device that CEO Steve Jobs has repeatedly called "magical" and "revolutionary."

You won't be able to get your hands on an iPad for another three weeks -- Apple has set April 3 as the ship date. But at least you'll finally be able to pre-order one.

What are the chances you'll actually have one on April 3 if you order tomorrow? What models can you buy now, get later? And which one ism really right for you?

Good questions, all. We have the answers to those, and more.

Exactly, what can I do tomorrow? You can pre-order an iPad at Apple 's online store, or reserve an iPad at an Apple retail store.

You can't walk out of the store with one, or expect an iPad to show up at your door next week, though, so just calm down. Take a breath. Relax.

Do I have to go to the store in person to reserve one? No. Customers can reserve an iPad by dialing the local store as well as driving to it and showing up in person. Some stores said that people can also place orders online by visiting the specific store's Web site.

If I reserve an iPad at my local Apple store, am I guaranteed to get it on April 3? Stores we talked to were hesitant to commit to a guarantee, but company representatives said that Apple had allocated a "certain number of reservations" per store, and as with iPhone launches in the past, each store would likely stop taking iPad pre-orders when it reached that number.

"If you reserve one, there's a pretty good chance you'll get it on April 3," said one store rep on the telephone.

If I pre-order an iPad on the online store, when will I receive it? April 3? No. According to an Apple sales representative manning the company's toll-free line, Apple intends to ship the iPad on April 3, a Saturday. "You'll have to give it a least a day to arrive, maybe more," said the rep, who added that he didn't have any additional information beyond that. "The sooner you place your order, the closer to the head of the line you'll be," he said.

What models can I order starting tomorrow? Although you can pre-order any of the six models on Friday -- three with WiFi only, three with both WiFi and 3G -- only the WiFi-only devices will ship or be available for pick-up on April 3. Apple has not yet said when it will deliver the WiFi+3G models, but at the January launch of the device, CEO Steve Jobs said they would ship about a month after the WiFi-only iPad.

How much will I have to fork over? Anywhere from $499 to $829. The WiFi-only iPads are priced at $499, $599 and $699 for the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB flash drive configurations, respectively.

The WiFi+3G models are priced $130 more, a fact that many have argued amounts to price gouging on the part of Apple. And don't forget you have to pay extra for a data plan if you want to use the 3G model on a 3G network.

What size flash drive should I get? 16GB, says Ezra Gottheil, analyst with Technology Business Research. "That's the one, for budget and psychological reasons, people will think, 'I can get a whole lot for $500,'" he said.

Although some may want to pop for the largest drive -- and pay $200 more for the additional 48GB -- Gottheil's betting that the $499 16GB model will be the biggest seller. "There's some evidence of that in the iPhone and iPod Touch lines," he said, referring to the popularity of the less-expensive models with lesser amounts of storage space.

"For $500, a lot will say the [16GB] iPad looks like a great thing," Gottheil concluded. "And the way that Apple works, many will be thinking, 'I'll want a different one in a couple years' anyway."

However, iSuppli, an El Segundo, Calif.-based market research firm known for its consumer electronics teardowns, has pegged the 32GB model as the "sweet spot" in Apple's profit margin chart, meaning that's the configuration Apple itself thinks will sell in the biggest numbers.

Should I wait for the WiFi+3G or grab the WiFi-only iPad now? Your call, of course. Just remember that atop the $130 surcharge for the hardware, you'll have to pay $15 per month minimum to AT&T for a data plan, $30 a month for an unlimited plan.

"If I were buying one, I'd be tempted," said Gottheil, of the 3G-equipped iPad. "The step up is big, and it means another data plan, but it makes the iPad more like the iPhone."

Even so, Gottheil and other analysts expect Apple to sell more WiFi-only iPads than the later models that also offer 3G connectivity.

Will there be a rush on the iPad? Some analysts think so .

One recent survey of American consumers, in fact, had 13% saying that they are likely to buy Apple's new gizmo in the next 90 days.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

Read more about macintoshes in Computerworld's Macintoshes Knowledge Center.

This story, "Apple's iPad pre-sale begins Friday" was originally published by Computerworld.

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