Apple began taking pre-orders for its much-hyped iPad tablet computer Friday, some three weeks before the sleek new device goes on sale in the United States.

The first version to be made available on April 3 is a wi-fi-only iPad that will sell for 499 dollars. Later in the month, Apple will release versions that feature the ability to connect to the internet over cellphone networks.

The level of pre-orders for the iPad should provide strong indications of whether it will mirror the popularity of the iPhone, which came to redefine and dominate the smartphone market following its launch in 2007.

Apple is not expected to release information about the level of pre-orders, but the order line was so busy early Friday that callers were placed on hold for some 10 minutes before being connected to sales staff.

“I ordered an iPad anticipating new ways to experience education,” student Kevin Paffrath told PCWorld.com. “I am hoping to use the iPad to take advantage of new innovations such as e-textbooks, magazines, word processing and presentations.”

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