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Early adopters head south to snap up the iPad

Three Apple workers cheer as the first customers buy an Apple iPad on the first day of iPad sales at an Apple Store in San Francisco, Saturday, April 3, 2010.

Paul Sakuma/AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

It's 7 a.m. on Saturday morning and my friend Dan Clark and I are on a road trip for two iPads from Buffalo. Today is the day the new tablet computer from Apple is launching south of the border. Neither of us want to wait until the end of the month when the multi-touch gadget debuts here in Canada. Dan, a brilliant graphic designer, is already working on an iPad application.

Me? Look up early adopter in Wikipedia and you'll find my picture. I helped alpha-test the Apple Newton in Canada, owned the first version of the Palm Pilot and lined up for an iPhone the day it was released in Canada. I get Linux jokes.

At the border Dan tells the guard we're heading to the Apple Store. Clearly, we're declaring these babies.

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An hour and a half later, when we arrive at the Apple store in the Walden Galleria, we find we aren't the only Canadians jonesing for an early iPad fix.

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Watch Wayne MacPhail's video dispatch from the front lines at the Walden Galleria mall in Buffalo, N.Y.

The store's not opened for another half hour. There are two lines snaking along the length of the shop, around the corner and far down one of the mall's massive walkways. About a thousand people stand, slouch, sit and slumber. In one line are folks like Dan and I, who had reserved our iPads ahead of time online.

In the other, the hopefuls who are counting on there being some leftover for them.

And there, at the head of the reserved line is the Brueckman family, Scott, Julie and their kids Madison, 11 and Jordan, 13. They've driven down from St. Jacob's, Ont., to replace Madison's stolen iPod with an iPad.

"We thought that's a nice replacement, for something that went bad, make it something good. So she's quite excited," says Scott.

But then Jordan thought an iPad would be a great early graduation present and, well Julie thought the big, one-button device would be perfect in the kitchen for recipes. "I think I might have to get one, because I'm not sure these guys will share because they're going to love it so much. I can't wait to use it for cooking."

Story continues below advertisement editor Matt Frehner got his iPad on Saturday. Check out his photos on Flickr.

Scott said that when they arrived in line, hours earlier, Canada was well-represented. "When we got here there were two Canadians and two Americans and then for about five hours their were two Americans and the Canadians kept coming."

A few paces down the line Kevin Bassie, 42, from Newmarket, Ont., waits to gets his hands on a device he's already created applications for.

He's been up all night and been in line since 11 p.m. last night.

Developers like Kevin have been able to create applications using the iPad software-development kit and an iPad simulator.

Only a chosen few developers, like those at the Wall Street Journal have been granted the right to touch and develop on an iPad - and it needed to be anchored to a desk in a windowless, locked room.

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Warren Davies is another Canadian whose company has apps ready to go on the iPad. He's here to pick up some iPads for his technicians to use to communicate with the elevators his company has installed all across Ontario.

"The software will be loaded this morning and will operational this afternoon in the high-rise towers in downtown Toronto," he says.

His technicians have been using iPhones and BlackBerries so far. "This is a new platform we'd like to explore. We'd like to be the first elevator company in Ontario to do this."

At 9 a.m. to the shouts, claps and cheers of sky-blue T-shirted Apple staff, the crowd pours in. Dan and I are two-thirds of the way back. Amazingly, less than a half-hour later, we both have activated iPads in hand and are leaving the store.

How's it look and feel? Remarkable. It is snappy, bright and responds to touch like a caffeinated cat. All around us, new owners are stroking screens, checking out cases and watching as soon-to-be iPad owners come in.

Dan and I head back to Canada.

How's it look and feel? Remarkable. It is snappy, bright and responds to touch like a caffeinated cat. All around us, new owners are stroking screens, checking out cases and watching as soon-to-be iPad owners come in.

"You buy anything?" asks the guard. "Two iPads," Dan says. The guard nods knowingly. "Busy down there?" he asks as he hands us a yellow form and motions us to the customs office.

Behind us, two young guys declare iPads. The folks in front are doing the same thing.

"Getting a lot of these?" Dan asks. "Hundreds," says the guard. Beside him, another guard; the young woman says, "I don't even know what an iPad is."

"It's like a big iPhone," says our guard.

"Why would anyone want a bigger phone?" the young woman asks.

Apple's about to find out.

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