How to score an iPad Air on Friday

Plenty of tablets for the opening weekend, says analyst, but for those who just have to be first....

Apple will start selling the on-an-Atkins-diet iPad Air Friday. And with the reviews positively gushing -- perhaps an understatement, with powerhouses like the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg calling it the "best tablet I've ever reviewed" -- consumer competition might get heated.

How can you get one? Let's count the ways.

Stand in line. How 2007. Or 2010. But hey, knock yourself out.

Apple's retail stores will open at 8 a.m. local time on Friday, just as they did the day the iPhone 5S and 5C went on sale in September.

Set the alarm clock, Part 1. Apple's online store will begin taking orders at 12:01 a.m. PT, 3:01 a.m. ET. Steer for this page, pick your iPad poison and click through.

Can't get to Apple's Web store to buy stuff? Use the Apple Store iOS app as a back-up to grab an iPad Air on Friday.

Apple warned Wall Street on Monday that the also-new Retina-equipped iPad Mini, which is slated to ship later next month, may be in short supply, but said nothing similar about the iPad Air, hinting that opening-day inventory should be solid.

But you never know. Last year, the iPad Mini -- the hotter of the two new tablets -- sold out within hours online. The fourth-generation full-sized iPad went into backorder as well; by the following Monday, shipping delays had lengthened to three-to-five days.

Because the iPad Air is arguably a much more aggressive refresh -- it's 29% lighter, 20% thinner, for example -- it's smart to assume it will sell out faster to the faithful than last year's same-old-same-old fourth-gen iPad.

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi didn't think so. "There's no reason there should be shortages," she said today of the iPad Air. "The competition for Retina-quality screens is in the smaller form factors, not the 10-in."

Research firms that have predicted shortages of the new iPad Mini have blamed low display yields.

Set the alarm clock, Part 2. The iPad Air can also be ordered for at-home delivery or in-store pickup using the Apple Store iOS app, which runs on the iPhone, iPod Touch and, naturally, the iPad. On the latter, however, the app is simply a blown-up version of the iPhone version, a complaint many have mentioned in the reviews on iTunes.

Customers stymied by an overloaded Web-based store have often turned to the Apple Store app and successfully placed an early order. One Computerworld staffer used the tactic last month to score one of the few gold iPhone 5S smartphones available on Day One.

Drive to Best Buy, or Walmart See "Stand in line."

But supplies at these Apple retail partners will, if history is any guide, be lower, much lower, than Apple's own stores. Expect a rush at Walmart, which last week said it will sell the entry-level Air for $479, or 4% under Apple's list.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about tablets in Computerworld's Tablets Topic Center.

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