(Mashable) -- On Friday March 11, Apple's iPad 2 will become available for purchase online and in retail stores. Early trade-in activity surrounding the original iPad suggests that that the iPad 2 will be in high demand.
As with last year's original iPad and the iPhone 4, we anticipate crowds and long lines at various Apple retail stores across the United States. Are you interested in buying an iPad 2 this weekend? Here's what you need to know.
Online or in-store
With the original iPad and the iPhone 4, Apple allowed individuals to place pre-orders online or to reserve a device for in-store pickup. With iPad 2, Apple is eschewing the pre-order game.
Instead, the iPad 2 will be available via Apple.com at some point early Friday, and in retail stores starting at 5:00pm. Online reports indicate that Apple.com sales will start at 12:01am PST on March 11, 2011. East coast buyers, set your clocks for 3am.
At Apple.com, users can choose between white or black variants in Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + 3G. Users can select either Verizon or AT&T for their Wi-Fi + 3G unit.
Apple promises "fast, free shipping," which indicates they are using 2-day Fed Ex or UPS. Depending on when an order goes through, it's possible users could get units on Monday March 14, 2011.
We'll be realistic and expect that most users who place an order on Friday will receive their packages on Tuesday March 15, 2011. Like Caesar, you'll need to watch for the Ides of March.
Apple retail stores will begin selling the iPad 2 at 5:00pm. Typically, Apple shuts down its stores for a few hours prior to launch in order to get signage, inventory and staff in place.
Lines may start at some outdoor Apple stores as early as Friday morning (if not Thursday night), but indoor mall locations may start later, depending on mall policies and general shopping traffic.
In addition to the Apple retail stores, the iPad 2 will also be available at Best Buy, Target, Walmart and Sam's Club.
Verizon Wireless will also be selling the iPad 2 on Friday March 11, 2011. None of the retail launch partners have specified if sales will take place both in-store and online, but we expect that in-store sales will not begin until 5:00pm.
It isn't clear if AT&T will be carrying the iPad 2 at launch (we've reached out to them for comment), but 3G variants from both carriers should be available at retail partners like Walmart and Best Buy. Neither AT&T nor Verizon will be carrying the Wi-Fi only models.
Models, colors, carriers
There are eighteen different iPad 2 units: the nine listed below, available in either black or white.
-- iPad 2 16GB Wi-Fi: $499.00
-- iPad 2 32GB Wi-Fi: $599.00
-- iPad 2 64GB Wi-Fi: $699.00
-- iPad 2 16GB Wi-Fi+3G Verizon: $629.00
-- iPad 2 32GB Wi-Fi+3G Verizon: $729.00
-- iPad 2 64GB Wi-Fi+3G Verizon: $829.00
-- iPad 2 16GB Wi-Fi+3G AT&T: $629.00
-- iPad 2 32GB Wi-Fi+3G AT&T: $729.00
-- iPad 2 64GB Wi-Fi+3G AT&T: $829.00
Unlike the white iPhone 4 debacle, Apple promises that white iPad 2 units will be available on launch day. It's really anyone's guess as to the breakdown between color choices.
Apple retail stores will likely have the most white units in-stock, with retailers like Best Buy, Target and Walmart carrying mostly black units.
Tips from iLine veterans
Having covered -- and waited in -- numerous iLines in the past, these are my suggestions:
-- Best Buy, Target or Walmart stores near an Apple retail store are likely to be less crowded. Customers who want the fastest purchase experience should check the retail locations closest to the Apple Store.
-- If you have a color/size preference, order online. Waiting in line for a few hours only to find out that the model you want is out of stock is no fun. If you want a specific color/capacity, reduce your stress level and order online.
-- Plan for non-iPad 2 shoppers. Wireless stores get pretty busy on Friday nights even without the iPad 2 -- keep that in mind before heading to the local Verizon or AT&T store.
-- Avoid the Austin-area Apple stores. South By Southwest coincides with the iPad 2 launch, meaning thousands of geeks will be in town and may descend on the store. Locals and visitors alike should steer clear. Just thinking about it makes me queasy.
-- Check Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare for line reports and information on how busy particular locations are.
-- Wait for Saturday. It isn't uncommon for stores like Best Buy and Walmart to get Friday deliveries. We imagine that at least some iPad 2 inventory will be delivered for the weekend, which means that Saturday mornings are a good time to try local stores -- and if you're brave -- the Apple Store.
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