The crowds were forming before the sun was rising in Fashion Valley with eager customers intent on being among the first owners of the much-anticipated iPad.
The celebrated device went on sale at 9 a.m.
By 6.30 a.m., there were about 35 people in line, according to local blogger and NBCSanDiego contributor Jenn Van Grove, who was among those eager to get her hands on the tablet-style device. Follow Jenn Van Grove on Twitter
By 8.30 a.m. there were about 200.
“It’s exciting, everyone’s excited. It’s an opportunity to own a device that nobody has yet,” Van Grove said. The browsing experience is supposed to be really intimate and totally different from anything we’ve ever seen before.”
Apple won't say how many of the $829 iPads it sold in advance of their debut Saturday, but there were estimates that the company has sold close to 500,000. Close to 90,000 were pre-ordered the first day it was available, according to some reports.
“This is a milestone event that we’re living through. There have been tablet computers before but all the attention that this is getting… leads me to believe that we’re going to look back on Saturday as an important moment in the history of technology and Apple,” Van Grove said.
Some of the initial iPad buyers were drawn by the ability to read electronic books, watch video and run a myriad of useful or fun applications, including Scrabble.
"The apps are going to make it really, really interesting. It will be really cool to kind of hold, touch and experience on such a large level,' Van Grove said.
The iPad is essentially a much larger version of Apple's popular iPhone, without the calling capabilities.
"It’s going to have the same kind of touch functionality, you’ll be able to use your whole hand to swipe across and to contract and expand. I think it’s going to be pretty intuitive for most people," Van Grove said.
The new device is a half-inch thick, weighs 1.5 pounds and has a touch screen that measures 9.7 inches on the diagonal -- nearly three times the iPhone's. Also like the iPhone, it has no physical keyboard, but sports an accelerometer, which lets gamers tilt the device to control what's happening on the screen.
For now, Apple is selling versions of the iPad that can only connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi. Those models start at $499. Versions that also have a cellular data connection will be available by the end of the month. They will cost $130 more, with the most expensive at $829.
Although Apple is adept at generating frenetic buzz for not-yet-released products, it may have to work extra hard once the initial iPad excitement settles. Many companies have tried to sell tablet computers before, but none have caught on with mainstream consumers.
Apple will need to convince people who may already have smart phones, laptops, set-top boxes and home broadband connections to buy yet another Internet-capable device with many of the same functions.
And while early adopters who pre-ordered an iPad in recent weeks gush about all the ways they hope to use the iPad -- casual Web searches on the couch, sharing photo albums with friends, reading books -- skeptics point to all the ways the iPad comes up short.
They argue the on-screen keyboard is hard to use and complain that it lacks a camera and ports for media storage cards and USB devices such as printers. They also bemoan the fact that the iPad can't play Flash video, which means many Web sites with embedded video clips will look broken to Web surfers using Apple's Safari browser. And the iPad can't run more than one program at a time, which even fans hope will change one day soon.