Fewer fans line up to be the first to own Apple’s iPad Mini

Apple's iPad Mini

Apple's iPad Mini

HONG KONG (CNN) — The iPad Mini made its global sales debut Friday, but the lines of fans outside many stores were much smaller than previous Apple debuts.

By midday, the line at Apple’s flagship store in Hong Kong to pick up reserved devices had five people, a far cry from the throngs that turned out for the iPad 2 debut here last year.

Hong Kong was among the first of 34 countries — including the U.S. and major European markets — where the iPad Mini went on sale Friday. Local press reports in Australia and Japan also suggested fewer fans were lining up to greet the thin 7.9-inch tablet.

Buyers were required to pre-order the device and arrive to pick up at a scheduled time, which may have contributed to the muted response. In January Apple halted sales of its iPhone 4S in Beijing and Shanghai after scuffles broke out among fans waiting overnight to buy the phone.

Apple wouldn’t comment on how many iPad Minis were pre-ordered.

However, more than 750 people lined up to buy the tablet — or other Apple gadgets — Friday morning outside Apple’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, according to Fortune’s Philip Elmer DeWitt. The size of the line was perhaps surprising given that Hurricane Sandy has disrupted access to Manhattan and some parts of the city are still without power.

In Hong Kong, the sale brought out the Apple faithful such as Thomas Wu, who added the Mini to his collection of products that include the iPhone, iTouch and iPad. “I love Apple,” Wu said. “I’m going to use the Mini, and give my iPad to my family.”

Those who crowded in the store over the iPad Mini display seemed more curious than ready to purchase the tablets, with models starting at $329. “I have several other tablets, so I’m just going to wait,” said one customer, who asked not to be named, as he tried out the iPad Mini.

Unlike previous releases, Apple is not blazing new territory with its Mini tablet. Instead, it’s getting into a small-tablet market already occupied by competitors such as Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

The cost of the new iPad Mini was a chief complaint among reviewers when the tablet was previewed by the press last week. “For $200 you can get a Nexus 7, you can get a Kindle Fire, with similar specs — so you’re really paying an Apple premium here,” Jason Tanz, senior editor at Wired, told CNN last week.

“It’s the first kind of defensive play we’ve seen from Apple in a while,” Tanz said. “This is the first time they’re kind of playing catch up.”

As CNNMoney reports, Apple shares fell below $600 earlier this week after a management shakeup and mixed iPad Mini reviews. Scott Forstall, one of the late Steve Jobs’ top lieutenants, also was shown the door after some recent missteps, including Apple’s heavily criticized release of Apple Maps — which led to an apology from Apple CEO Tim Cook.

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