The wild Apple iPad ruckus begins

Once again, Steve Jobs has stirred his customers into a frenzy

Photos: Apple Inc.

Even before Apple (AAPL) opened its online store for pre-orders Friday morning the company’s fanbase — and the press that feeds it — had worked themselves into a lather.

A one-sentence e-mail from Apple PR Thursday afternoon confirming the hour on Friday that buyers in the U.S. can start ordering the company’s latest creation — 8:30 a.m. ET, 5:30 a.m. PT — had generated more than 100 pre-dawn headlines Friday morning.

SET YOUR ALARM CLOCKS, screamed 9to5Mac, as if by sleeping in you might miss out.

The New York Times offered relatively sober advice on HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT IPAD FOR YOU. “If you’re already readying your tent and fold-up chairs to wait outside an Apple store for the company’s latest offering,” it begins, “then please read on.”

In SHOULD YOU PRE-ORDER AN IPAD?, the Wall Street Journal listed five reasons — from early glitches to future price cuts — it might make more sense to wait.

That suggestion triggered cries of derision from TUAW’s Erica Sadun in IT’S COOL TO BE AN EARLY IPAD ADOPTER. “If you don’t hop aboard the adoption train,” she tells readers, “you’re never going to get to Techsville.”

With analysts predicting shortages and Apple warning customers that even a pre-order may not guarantee first-day delivery, you can expect lines outside the Apple Stores come April 3.

UPDATE: Apple’s online store, which had been offline for an hour and a half, opened for pre-orders at 8:30 a.m. ET on the dot. The process took less than two minutes. Orders are limited to two per customer and some accessories — notably the $69 keyboard dock — won’t ship until mid-April.

There are two shipping options: standard (free) and, for $12-$14 more, 2-3 days. Alternatively, you can reserve an iPad with no money down and pick it up April 3 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Apple Store nearest you.

Below: A video debate staged by G4TV on the question of whether it’s better to buy now or to wait (“better to avoid altogether” was not represented). In favor of buying: Silicon Alley Insider’s Dan Frommer. In favor of waiting: Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan.

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Tune in here for our live coverage of the scene outside the glass cube on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on April 3.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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