Buying an iPad Day Zero: The Survival GuideS

You didn't preorder an iPad. But you want one now. Can you still buy one? Where do you go? What's it going to be like? This is what you need to know to buy an iPad tomorrow. Updated.

The Apple Store

Are there gonna iPads for people who didn't preorder?
Yes. In fact, the Apple Store is very probably your best bet, because they're overwhelmingly getting the most stock. In Manhattan, we've heard each Apple Store will have thousands of iPads, with the Fifth Ave. Store getting the most. Most of those are indeed for pre-orders, but for every 10 iPads slated for preorder customer, there's at least one for a walk in. If you do the math, there are at least a couple hundred per store, at least in NYC.

YMMV per location, but every Apple Store will have some in stock, and they'll have the most of anybody.

How's the line going to work?
There's effectively going to be two lines at Apple Stores: People who pre-ordered are first priority, and will get their iPads starting at 9AM. People who didn't preorder will start an hour later, at 10AM.

What if I want to return it?
Standard issue Apple returns hold for the iPad: You can return it within 14 days, scott free, or within 30 days, paying a 15 percent restocking fee, but if it's opened there's a 10 percent restocking fee.

Best Buy

If you don't have an Apple Store near you, Best Buy is the most likely place you'll be able to buy an iPad on the ground.

Which stores are getting iPads?
Multiple sources have said that only Best Buy stores with the mini Apple stores inside—the special section with the glowing column and Apple products set aside from everything else—will be getting them. Fortunately, that's the majority of Best Buys—around 675 stores—so there's a good chance you have one near you. You can't order online, yet.

How many iPads are they gonna get?
The leaked iPad Best Buy playbook specified it was a minimum of 5 per SKU—16GB, 32GB and 64GB—per store, for a total of 15. But what we've heard from people on the ground is that it's a minimum of 5 iPads per store, with most stores are getting 10 or fewer for launch. But stores in heavily populated areas could get more. Update: Larger stores, we're hearing, with revenues over tens of millions of dollars, will apparently get as many at 15 iPads per model. (But we're also hearing there's some UPS distribution issues at the moment, so there could be weird shortages.)

The big catch, what could change the calculus a bit, is that Best Buy's major iPad push is happening next week, April 11, with a massive Sunday ad. Stores are being instructed to make sure they have inventory to go with that—if Apple can't supply enough units, stores will hold back a certain amount for that week. So even if a store does get more than 15, they might have to hang onto 'em until next week.

Point being, there's a decent chance you could get one, especially if you line up, though YMMV per store.

How Are the Lines Going to Work?
Apparently, this is being managed on a store-by-store basis, to an extent. One Best Buy worker tells us "it'll be like Black Friday," with another getting more specific that they'll hand out tickets about an hour before stores open, to organize any potential chaos. (And so people know if they're going to get one or not without feeling screwed.) The tickets will be good until 2 or 3pm, in some cases (so you get a ticket in the morning, and come back later).

There is value in lining up, if you wanna be absolutely sure you're going to get one. The question is how badly you think people want an iPad where you live, and whether there's flashier alternate availability (read: Apple Stores, where people love to buy Apple products).

What if I want to return it?
You can return it within 14 days, but you'll pay a restocking fee.

Indy Apple Retailers

Apple specialist stores are getting iPads tomorrow. There's no telling which ones, though, so your best bet is to call up your local Apple joint and ask. We've heard some of them are getting pretty solid inventory—think many tens of units, up to 100—depending on location. Given their less-than-high profile, they could be the best backdoor for getting an iPad tomorrow.

Other Questions and Concerns

What time should I get there?
Well, it's calculation involving three variables: Multiply iPad demand in your area by the visibility of the location. Divide that by the probable number of iPads. The bigger number, the earlier you should go (i.e., go really early, or stay the hell away from the Fifth Ave. Apple Store in NYC).

They might not have the iPad model you want
In stores with limited stock—like some of the Best Buy locations—there's no clear cut answer what the mix of iPads is going to be, and more importantly, which version is going to be most demanded (16GB, 32GB or 64GB). So, be prepared to possibly get an iPad with a different amount of storage than you originally wanted, or to walk away.

That should cover the most pertinent basics, but we're always hungry for more intel. So if you've got questions (or answers) let me know here (I'll keep it anonymous) or in the comments. Happy hunting!

[Image via goodrob13/Flickr]