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Gadget envy, Apple loyalty bring buyers to iPad launch

By Patrick May, Robert Salonga and Jeremy C. Owens, San Jose Mercury News –

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Apple fans lined up early Friday for the debut of the newest iteration of the iPad tablet computer, joining employees in cheers and coffee until Apple Store doors opened at 8 a.m.

At Valley Fair mall in Santa Clara, Calif. — not far from Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters — about 60 people slept overnight outside the Apple Store in anticipation of buying the new iPad, and another 100 had gathered in a secondary line in the parking structure by 7 a.m.

First in line inside the mall was Jose Cuevas, 29, a San Jose mechanic who said it is the third Apple device launch he’s attended.

Donning an “Hecho in Mexico” T-shirt and jeans, Cuevas got in line at 10:30 a.m. Thursday with a folding chair, bottled water, a small cooler and a backpack with his iPad 2 and several other Apple devices. Mall security told him he had to move along at one point Thursday because he was not “a mall patron,” so Cuevas said he “went and bought a coffee, which made me a patron, so they let me stay.”

Cuevas brought a sleeping bag, but said he didn’t get much sleep Thursday night because there was a lot of clapping and commotion, which his ear plugs couldn’t drown out.

He didn’t regret the decision, however.

“I have all the iPods, iPads and iPhones they’ve released. The only thing I don’t have is the iPhone 4S,” Cuevas said. “I love how easy and revolutionary these products are. I first realized it when I saw a friend using sign language and reading lips by using the front-facing camera and Facetime. I thought this was amazing, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Cuevas planned to buy a white, 64-gigabyte, 4G LTE-capable iPad, which he had figured out beforehand would cost $906.48 with tax.

About 60 young, blue-shirted employees served coffee and water to those waiting in line and whipped them into a frenzy at certain points before gathering inside the store for a frenetic prelaunch rally. A crew of about a dozen employees of the Microsoft Store had their own pep rally, but their size and enthusiasm was dwarfed by their neighbors thirty feet away.

Emma Harris, 56, a small-business owner from Morgan Hill, Calif., waited in line anxiously at Valley Fair as the doors were preparing to open. She said she has been to every Apple launch so far at Valley Fair, three for iPads and three for iPhones.

“It’s having it before anyone else has it, because you can shove it in their face and say ‘Look what I’ve got,’ ” she said of her motivation.

She passed the evening comfortably sleeping on the floor in advance of buying two 64GB iPads and one 16GB for herself, her daughter and her brother.

“If you’re tired, you can sleep anywhere,” she said.

When the store opened at 8 a.m., customers were welcomed by two lines of screaming employees. The first customers came back outside with their prized purchases about ten minutes later.

Harris emerged with her new 64GB, 4G-capable iPad, for which she paid $829 plus tax.

“It feels wonderful. After all, it’s Apple, and I’ve got the newest one on the block.”

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