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Apple employees just as excited about iPad launch

Apple store employees are just as keen as users to get their hands on an iPad.

US fans are gearing up to get their hands on Apple's iPad this Saturday, but it would seem that the company's own employees are just as excited about the impending arrival.

Apple store workers say they have yet to see or touch the iPad, even though the launch is just days away and they are being trained and encouraged to talk about Apple's newest device with customers.

"We haven't seen it; we never do" before a product is launched, said one employee, who asked not to be identified because workers are barred from speaking with the media. "Every store employee I know, including the managers, they haven't seen it."

With its notoriously secretive corporate culture, Apple is loathe to circulate any iPads among retail troops ahead of the debut. Even in-store Apple repair techs - known as "geniuses" - don't yet know how to fix the gadget.

Since the iPhone launch in June 2007, Apple product releases have played out like concert tours, with fans sleeping in lines overnight and blanket media coverage that generates plenty of free advertising.

But amidst all the hype, the company's ethos of secrecy extends from its corporate perch in Cupertino, California, to its component suppliers and its network of more than 200 US stores.

"We did not see or hold an iPhone until an hour before it went on sale," said a former Apple store employee. "We didn't know much more about it than people asking us."

Major products are usually unveiled by chief executive Steve Jobs at special media events, and most retail employees are kept in the dark until the devices are publicly available.

"There was really no word on anything," said another former store worker of the iPhone launch. "We saw a video of the keynote, and that was basically all you knew."

Guards and decoys

The iPad is Apple's most significant product launch since the iPhone. Starting at $499, analysts estimate Apple could sell from 850,000 to 1.2 million units of the 9.7in touch screen tablet in the April-June quarter.

Apple's US stores will open at 9am on Saturday but the company has provided few details about the launch.

If the iPhone debut is any guideline, Apple will have guards and decoys in place to hold the iPad's secrets.

At one store, Apple arranged to have two pallets arrive the day before the iPhone launch, placing one in the manager's office and the other in the stock room, both under the watchful eye of security cameras. Staff said one was filled with iPhones and the other was a decoy to discourage nosey employees.

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