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Apple Store down ahead of iPad Air midnight sales

Apple's online store goes offline, presumably as the company prepares to open sales of the sleek new iPad Air in the US.

Screenshot by CNET

With just hours until the new iPad Air goes on sale in the US, Apple's online store is down.

In what has become standard operating procedure for Apple, the online marketplace has been replaced with the now familiar message: "We're busy updating the Apple Store for you and will be back soon."

The message is up in anticipation of the recently unveiled iPad Air, which goes on sale Friday in the US online at 12 a.m. PT and in the company's retail stores at 8 a.m. local time. In-store sales have already started in some countries, with the tablet headed to 42 countries total, marking the biggest launch yet for one of Apple's tablets.

The new iPad Air is a substantially thinner and lighter tablet than previous generations of the iPad, at only 7.5mm thick and weighing just 1 pound. Its updated design -- along with its A7 chip, battery life, and improved front-facing camera -- led CNET reviews to dub it the "best full-size consumer tablet on the market."

The tablet starts at $499 for the 16GB and goes up to $799 for the maximum 128GB configuration. Cellular models -- with LTE and support for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon in the US -- cost an additional $130 beyond the above prices.