Fans find ways to grab an iPad

Officially you can't get the iPad in the Middle East yet - but enthusiasts are spending $1,000 just to ship the new Apple gadget from the US.

The Apple iPAd is one of the most highly anticipated technological developments in years, and while it may not be over here yet, today technophiles can finally embrace a device that may change computing as we know it.

Apple's latest creation, a thin, light touch-screen tablet that is about the size of a hardcover book, is finally available in the US. But UAE retailers admit they do not yet know when it will arrive on our shores. Thousands of people are expected to line up outside Apple stores in the United States to be the first to buy the device, in scenes reminiscent of June 2007 when the iPhone was introduced.

As the iPhone ushered in a new era of mobile communications, the iPad promises to herald a new category of computing that will change how people interact with technology and media. While estimates suggest that up to 500,000 iPads will be sold this weekend, since it is widely available in hundreds of locations across the US, tracking down an iPad in the UAE and the Middle East will be a different story.

Gerald Donovan, a project manager at Gulf Business Machines, has spent about US$1,000 (Dh3,600) shipping his 64-gigabyte iPad to the UAE via the US. He expects it to arrive by Tuesday. "I think everybody is underestimating the impact of how big this is going to be," he said. "When people start to realise you just pick it up and touch the screen, it becomes the most natural way of how to interact with your technology."

Electronic retailers such as Jacky's Electronics and iStyle said that they still have no idea when they would get the iPad. A representative from Arab Business Machines, the official supplier of Apple products in the Middle East, said the company would have a better idea on the device's regional availability after its European launch. Those who have ordered an iPad using a re-routable shipping service such as Aramex's ShopAndShip were also left disappointed after Apple reportedly cancelled invoices which used such delivery methods.

However, grey market electronic retailers across the country are expected to get the first shipments from suppliers by the end of this month. Hussein Izdie, the manager of Mr Laptop, an electronic retailer in Al Ain Centre in Dubai, said more than 100 people had approached him to find out when he would be selling the iPad. The store, one of the first in the country to sell the iPhone before Etisalat made it legally available, was likely to receive its first shipment of the devices by the end of next month, he said.

"I'm trying to get it as soon as possible," Mr Izdie said. "If I have any left, I might buy one myself." For online shoppers, is accepting pre-orders for the iPad, selling the device for Dh2,779 to Dh3,269, a markup of at least 20 per cent., the regional auction website, also has iPads up for grabs at a cost of Dh2,500 to Dh6,000. "We've already been confirmed that we would be among one of the first retailers in the UAE to get the iPad," said Sheriff Rizwan, the chief executive of He expects to spend up to $15,000 in online advertising to draw customers to his website.

"We have confirmed orders of 40 units in the past week," he said. "More or less, when it is launched in the US, we should be getting our hands on the iPad within the next couple of days." Scouring for a local retailer that may or may not have the iPad is not enough for some gadget freaks. Like Mr Donovan, many who covet the device have taken matters into their own hands. Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, the chief executive of Flip Media, gleefully checked his UPS tracking code as he watched his iPad package travel from China to his sister's home in Manhattan. Once the device arrives in New York, Mr Tuqan said his sister was "under strict instructions" to mail the iPad to him through a courier service near her house.

"I'm excited about what it can do," said Mr Tuqan. "For me, I spend a lot of time between my iPhone and my Mac. I read stories and watch YouTube on my iPhone when I go to bed at night and I've got my Mac where I can do presentations and that sort of stuff. The iPad is the one device that can do all of those things comfortably. It's where the world is headed." Each device will cost between $499 for a 16-gigabyte wi-fi-only model and $699 for a 64-gigabyte version. Publications such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Wired are pinning their hopes on people purchasing monthly subscriptions of their content for the iPad, complete with interactive advertising. Other applications, such as a DJ mixer, piano keyboard, book reader and video games, are also highly anticipated.

An iPad model that connects to 3G networks is expected to be available at the end of April in the US, with select international availability a month later. The device requires a special "MicroSIM", a smaller version of the SIM card embedded in mobile phones, to operate. Etisalat and du are in discussions with Apple to sell the 3G iPad sometime this year, but the companies did not respond to a request for an update on those talks.