Apple-mania returned to Asia and Europe on Friday as the company’s latest version of its iPad went on sale, drawing diehard fans to shops selling the highly anticipated tablet computer.

Gadget fans lined up in the U.K., France, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore so they could be among the first to get their hands on the device.

The third version of Apple’s iPad also went on sale in Australia, Germany and Switzerland and will be available in the U.S. and Canada from at 8 a.m. local time, with 25 other countries getting it a week later. The new model comes with a faster processor and a much sharper screen. It also boasts an improved camera, similar to that of the latest iPhone.

For many customers, visiting a store in person instead of having a new iPad shipped to their home offers consumers a chance to mingle with diehard Apple fans.

About 450 people lined up outside Apple’s Ginza store in downtown Tokyo. Some had spent the night sleeping outside the store to be among the first when it opened at 8 a.m. two hours earlier than usual.

“I wanted to be able to show it off to my friends,” said Norio Nakayama, a 33-year-old computer consultant outside Apple’s crosstown shop in the trendy Shibuya district. “I think I’ll give my older iPad 1 to my wife.”

In London, Dipak Varsani, 21, got in line at an Apple Store at 1 a.m. on Thursday night. “Being able to finally have it in my hand is really an experience,” he said as he emerged from the store.

“It is better than the other iPads because of the HD resolution you’ve got clearer movies and clearer games I use it as a multimedia device.”

Also in London, Harry Barrington-Mountford, 22, and his girlfriend Fenella Barnes, 30, remembered lining up for the previous iPad model in 2010.

“We had such a great time queuing last time that we decided to do it again,” he said. “People always stop to talk to us. I am exhausted though, I have only had about 45 minutes of sleep.”

In Hong Kong, a steady stream of buyers picked up their new devices at preset times at the city’s sole Apple store after entering an online lottery.

The system, which required buyers to have local ID cards, also helped thwart attempts by visitors from mainland China Apple’s fastest growing market who have a reputation for scooping up Apple gadgets to get them earlier and avoid sales tax at home.

“I’m happy I won the lucky draw,” said Kelvin Tsui, a 26-year-old hospital worker who was allowed to buy two. Mr. Tsui said he would use the opportunity to make some money. “If I’ve got more than one, of course I’ll sell the other one.”

The iPad’s release date in China has not yet been announced.

Two years after the debut of the first iPad, the device’s launch has become the second-biggest “gadget event” of the year, after the annual iPhone release.

Despite competition from cheaper tablet computers such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle Fire, the iPad remains the most popular tablet computer. Apple Inc. has sold more than 55 million iPads since its debut in 2010, including some 40 million last year. Researchers estimate that the iPad has more than 60 percent of the market for tablets.

The new iPad is called just that- “the new iPad.” Apple declined to give it a name like “iPad 3” or “iPad HD.” That is consistent with its naming practice for iPods, MacBooks and iMacs, but a break with the way iPhone models are named.

For some customers, standing in line will offer the only chance to get a new iPad on Friday. Apple quickly ran out of supplies it set aside for advance orders. The company was telling customers Thursday to expect a two- to three-week wait for orders placed through its online stores. Some buyers feared even longer waits.

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Apple launches new iPadMarch 8, 2012