Apple Store braces for iPad pre-order blitz

The online Apple Store went down for several hours early Friday morning, as Apple updated the site to accommodate the iPad pre-order rush.

The Apple iPad, shown here at a launch event in San Francisco, is now available for preorder online at the Apple Store.

For several hours (very) early this morning, a palpable panic spread across the Web. The Apple Store was closed! The Apple Store was dark! The Apple Store was down! Twitter lit up with frenzied requests for info, and on the tech blogs, some overeager writers speculated that the Apple Store might have completely crashed under pressure from hordes of iPad-happy consumers.

Let us be the first to say, "Fret not, dear Apple lover. 'Twas only an update." That's right, folks. As of 8:30 a.m. EST, the Apple Store was open for business again, this time with a big, fat advertisement for an Apple iPad pre-order. The iPad, touted by Apple Store copywriters as "a magical and revolutionary product," is selling at a range of price-points – from $499 for 16-gigabyte Wi-Fi capable iPad to $829 for a 64-gigabyte 3G and Wi-Fi capable iPad.

The iPad was originally expected to ship at the end of March, but Apple pushed the official launch of the Wi-Fi edition back to April 3. Consumers in the market for a 3G-ready iPad will have to wait until "late April," according to the Apple Store. (To learn a bit more about the relative merits of the 3G iPad versus the regular old Wi-Fi iPad, you can click through some recent Horizons posts, here and here.)

The benefits to pre-ordering an iPad are pretty clear. On the one hand, you're guaranteed to get the device before most of your friends. Even better, you get to avoid potentially long lines at your local Apple outlet. (Shipping is free on all iPad pre-orders.) But Rob Enderle, a tech analyst based in San Jose, says that consumers shouldn't be so quick to jump on the pre-order bandwagon.

“Most people are better off waiting for the technology to mature,” Enderle told Smart Money. “Even the first iPhone owners were pretty unhappy.”

Are you considering pre-ordering an iPad from the online Apple Store? Check out our previous iPad coverage, and then drop us a line on Twitter or Facebook.

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