Modest crowds greet iPad mini’s release

The iPad mini is a slimmed-down version of Apple’s popular tablet, so in a way, it’s fitting that Friday’s release brought out smaller crowds when compared to previous Apple product roll-outs.

Crowds showed up at Apple Stores around the country for the iPad mini, but not in the numbers they had for other recent iPad and iPhone launches. Blame it on product fatigue–the iPad mini and the fourth-generation iPad arrived on retail shelves a little less than eight months after the last big iPad release. Or, if you’re on the east coast, blame it on Hurricane Sandy, which hit the northeast hard earlier this week. With millions still without power, particularly in New Jersey and New York, lining up to purchase a new iPad wasn’t high on a lot of people’s priority lists. (Indeed, two Apple Stores in Lower Manhattan remained closed Friday as a result of Sandy.)

In Philadelphia, for example, there was nowhere near the hundreds-deep line that greeted previous iPad launches at the Walnut Street Apple Store. Instead, about two dozen people huddled near the store’s entrance an hour before opening, with half of those there early to buy iPhones. The overall line grew slightly as the 8 a.m. opening drew closer. In another sign of the muted launch, Apple Store employees skipped traditional festivities like running down the long line of customers and offering high fives.

Still, the customers who did show up in Philadelphia were enthusiastic about the latest iPads. Jennifer Bornstein, who works at a Philadelphia museum, was in line to upgrade from her first-generation iPad to a new mini. The original iPad “was too big for me, too heavy,” she said. “I’ve waited for this for many years.”

Drexel University student Scott Wertz was also in line, looking to buy a mini; it would be his first individual iPad purchase, though his family had owned other versions of Apple’s tablet. He lauded “the convenience factor of being able to use it in one hand and being able to maybe slip it in your jacket pocket, rather than using it like a laptop. Not needing a bag, but putting it in my pocket, is a huge draw for me.”

Marcello Picchi was taking advantage of a visit to Philadelphia from his native Brazil to buy “as many iPad minis as I can buy. It’s just a gift for everyone in my family, an early Christmas gift.” The iPad mini went on sale in 34 countries–but not Brazil–on Friday.

Across the country in San Francisco, around 50 people were in line at the Stockton Street store–nothing close to the crowds that greeted the iPhone 5 a little more than a month ago. By 8:30 a.m., most of the line had completed its purchases; you could walk in off the street and buy an iPad mini if you wanted without a wait.

Still, those who showed up to get their hands on a mini were excited by how light and easy to handle the smaller iPad was. “It feels so light, I expect to use it all the time,” said Richard Shih, a canny iPad mini shopper who arrived half-an-hour after the San Francisco store opened and picked up his new tablet without having to wait in line.

Igor Asner showed up an hour before the Stockton Street store opened its doors. “It’s my first iPad and I’m already falling in love with it,” Asner said. “I’ve heard mixed reviews about the screen but it looks crisp to me at reading distance.”

Mike Keevers showed up at the San Francisco store just to check out the new iPads. Like many on Friday, he liked the look of the black one. “Since it’s so much bigger [than the iPhone], you’d think it would have a better camera than the iPhone, though,” he added.

The Wi-Fi equipped iPad mini comes in three sizes: 16GB ($329), 32GB ($429), and 64GB ($529). LTE cellular-equipped models are available for $130 more. The 7.9-inch tablet features a 1024 by 768 pixel display, a dual-core A5 processor, and a FaceTime HD front-facing camera and 5-megapixel rear camera.

Crowds may have been thinner on Friday than at past product launches, but Apple still saw brisk sales. Bloomberg reported that Apple’s Fifth Avenue Store–one of its New York stores that remained open in the wake of Hurricane Sandy–sold out of minis within two hours on Friday.

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