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New iPad hits stores at 8 a.m. Friday

Apple's retail and online stores will kick off sales of the new iPad early this Friday in the U.S., U.K., Japan, and several other countries.

The new iPad will hit the shelves at 8 a.m. local time Friday.
The new iPad will hit the shelves at 8 a.m. local time Friday.

Tablet buyers around the world eager to buy the new iPad will get a chance at 8 a.m. Friday.

Apple's retail stores and online store will start selling the third-generation iPad at 8 a.m. local time Friday across several countries, Apple announced today. The shift represents an early opening for Apple Stores, which normally unlock their doors at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m.

The new iPad will initially be sold in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the U.S., the new iPad will also be available at Best Buy, Radio Shack, Sam's Club, Target, and Wal-Mart.

Buyers who snag a new iPad at an Apple retail outlet will be offered a free service from a store employee who can help them customize the tablet, set up e-mail, and load new apps.

Customers can also purchase an iPad on Apple's site and pick it up at a local Apple store.

The new iPad will travel even further around the world on March 23, reaching Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

So what are your chances of actually scoring an iPad this Friday?

An Apple representative told CNET last week that the device will be sold on a "first come, first-served basis."

"First-come, first-served" means that anyone eager to grab a new iPad on Day One will need to arrive at the store a lot earlier than 8 a.m. and be ready to while away the morning hours in line.

Unveiling the new iPad a week ago, Apple sold out of its initial stock in online preorders within two days. Current estimates at Apple's online store show a wait time of two to three weeks.

So, if you're eyeing the new iPad, are you better off waiting in line or online? I second the motion from CNET's Scott Stein in advising people to order online.

Last year, my wife and I stood in line outside our local Apple Store early one morning waiting to pick up a couple of iPad 2 tablets. After several hours we finally reached the doors of the store only to discover that all available stock had been sold out. We went home that day, ordered a couple of the tablets online, and received them a few weeks later.

Of course, there are always those consumers who want to be the first one on the block to own a new device. But for the average person, a few weeks wait isn't exactly a hardship.