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iPad 2 Sales Start With Pre-Dawn Online Orders

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Customers check out the new Apple iPad 2. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Customers check out the new Apple iPad 2. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The updated version of Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet computer is set to go on sale Friday afternoon, after online orders started in the early hours of the morning.

The Cupertino company opened online sales of the iPad 2 at 3 a.m. CST, hours before they will be available in stores nationwide at 5 p.m. local time.

When the original version of the iPad went on sale in April, Apple said it sold more than 300,000 in the first day. It ended up selling more than 15 million in the first nine months, including 7.3 million to holiday shoppers in the October-December quarter.

The new iPad model comes with several improvements over the original version but the same price tag — $499 to $829, depending on storage space and whether they can connect to the Internet over a cellular network — hobbling efforts by rivals at breaking Apple’s hold on the emerging market for tablet computers.

The iPad 2 looks much like the first iPad, only with a sleeker, lighter body with a curved back. Among changes is the inclusion of cameras for videoconferencing, one on the front and one on the back.

With the original iPad, Apple proved there is a large market for a tablet that’s less than a laptop and more than a smart phone, yet performs many of the same tasks. Competitors including Dell Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. have been trying to lure consumers with smaller tablets, without much success. In February, Motorola Mobility Inc.’s Xoom went on sale with a new version of Google Inc.’s Android software that was designed for tablets, not smart phones.

To underscore the importance of the iPad to Apple, company CEO Steve Jobs emerged from a medical leave earlier this month to unveil the new version to bloggers and Apple enthusiasts. Jobs, 56, announced in January that he would take a third leave of absence to focus on his health. In the last decade, he has survived a rare but curable form of pancreatic cancer and undergone a liver transplant.

After its U.S. launch Friday, the iPad 2 goes on sale March 25 in 26 other markets, including Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and other European countries.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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