By Jessica Mintz, AP Technology Writer
SEATTLE (AP) — People who lined up to buy the first iPhone knew what they were paying hundreds of dollars for: a new cell phone that promised to be better. Apple Inc.'s newest gadget, the iPad tablet computer, falls into a category that's foreign to most people.
And yet plenty of them have already happily dropped $500 or more for a device they've never seen, in the hopes it will be some previously unidentified missing link in their digital lifestyles.
"If Apple sold groceries, I would buy groceries from them," says Matthew Rice, who works for pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.
Apple won't say how many iPads it has sold in advance of their debut Saturday, and it's hard to predict how many enthusiasts will camp overnight and swamp Apple stores when the doors open Saturday at 9 a.m., as they did for last summer's launch of the most recent version of the iPhone. That happened even though people could "pre-order" the device, just as they can for the iPad.
Rice won't be ripping open any boxes Saturday, but only because he chose an $829 iPad with a "3G" data connection, which won't ship until late April.
He has owned four iPhones and just about every model of iPod ever produced. He uses an iMac computer at home and a MacBook Air laptop on the road. He jokes about giving Apple his credit card number and having the company just ship new products as they're released. But despite his near-complete catalog of Apple goods, Rice can find holes for the iPad to fill.
It will be perfect for carting around PDF versions of scientific articles he needs to read for his job, he says. And Rice, an avid photographer, hopes it will be a way to hand people an "album" and let them flip through photos of his travels.
Will Zich, an 11-year-old, started saving money last year for a new iPod Touch, but changed his mind when the iPad was unveiled in January. He can rattle off all his reasons for wanting one, such as the e-book store, plus a bigger screen and faster processor than his iPod Touch. He says the iPad will be useful on road trips, and for playing games and surfing the Web early in the morning when the rest of the family is still sleeping.