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Friday, April 02, 2010, 05:00 pm PT (08:00 pm ET)

Apple retail to hold 7AM training, all staffers may get iPads [3u]

Exclusive: Apple is reportedly calling all of its retail store employees to a top secret, all hands on deck meeting tomorrow at 7AM to train them on the iPad, and will possibly involve each team member receiving a 16GB WiFi iPad.

Rumors that Apple might hand out iPads to its retail employees first appeared during a corporate town hall meeting with Ron Johnson (the company's Senior Vice President of Retail Operations), where the subject was casually mentioned but not confirmed, one person familiar with Apple's retail operations said. Apple previously assigned its employees free iPhones and iPod touches.

A second person reported that the iPad retail launch will begin with an overnight security patrol to monitor each store's inventory, which will continue even after a manager and team of five to ten employees begin the day at 3AM. A third person confirmed that the reports are consistent with Apple's other product launches, adding that "security guards are routine for a product launch, with the guards partly there to handle the waiting lines."

Leave your stuff at home?

When all other employees arrive at 7AM (everyone is scheduled to work a full day tomorrow), they'll be required to sign an non-disclosure agreement and hand in their iPhones to management before entering the building.

"This is the first time in retail history that employees had to hand in their iPhones (or normal phones) to prevent any leaks on launch day," the original source reported to AppleInsider. That suggests that there's possibly "one more thing" on the iPad that nobody's yet aware of, and that Apple doesn't want to leak until the lines are formed and the media shows up to cover the iPad launch event.

However, a confirming source said that "employees are usually encouraged not to bring their laptops, iPods and iPhones to the store during their shift, so handing them over isn't such a big deal—most won't bring anything.

"I have heard nothing about giving out a free iPad to employees, although that's been done with the iPod and iPhone," the source said. "I believe there's some continued employment requirement after receiving the device (have to be there 6 months or 1 year after receiving it?). I can confirm the 7AM training sessions and that everyone will work until 10AM. At that point, part-time employees who were scheduled to work later in the day go home, and then come back for their later shift."

Update 1: A fourth retail source reports: "I'm a former Apple Genius with many ties to retail. Employees were never given iPod touches, just iPhones, and you were only given an iPhone if you were a full-time employee or had been part-time for at least a year.

"This is not the first time retail employees were required to check in iPhones and other devices with cameras. Just before the original iPhone launch, we were required to check in our phones for the week prior and encouraged to leave all other equipment at home.

"If employees are given gifts like iPhones and other devices, we are taxed on them just like a bonus and they are never handed out the day of a release. Generally it will be at least 6-8 weeks before those gifts (same is true for all software) to be handed out."

Update 2:Additional readers with experience dating back to the release of the original iPod noted: "You have some information incorrect about tomorrow's launch. Not all employees need to report at 7, or at least not all at our location. Only the employees who are opening the store need to.

"As for free hardware, we (retail employees at least) have received the 3G iPod (the one with the four buttons across the top). These were considered Apple property, and we had to turn them in if we left within one year of receiving them. I think some of the later employees got a 4G with the same strings. AFAIK, we were never taxed on this iPod.

"We also received free 1st and 2nd gen shuffles, and 1st gen iPhones, and were taxed on the value of these as compensation. We were also given a few gift cards during the holidays, and again we taxed if we accepted them. We never got iPod touches. We were also able to purchase the original iPod at half-off. Of course, everyone is hoping to get a free iPad.

"Also, employees of some of the first stores (pre 9-11 opens I think) were given 100 options with about a $11 strike price (adjusted for splits)."

No love for Apple's Authorized Resellers

While Apple is focusing the iPad launch on its own retail stores, it will also be delivering inventories of the new tablet to select BestBuy locations with a "store within a store," as well as its Apple Specialists authorized resellers. However, the company has specifically barred its third party dealer network from advertising the iPad's availability or taking pre-orders, apparently in a bid to funnel all early interest in front of the cameras that will be covering the launch event.

On March 18, Apple reportedly sent an notice to its resellers that said, "you are only allowed to verbally respond to inquiries from customers about your iPad authorization as follows: 'Yes, [Your Reseller Name] will be authorized to sell the Apple iPad. We are not taking any pre-orders at this time. However, if you'd like, we can take your name and contact information. When [Reseller Name] is prepared to take orders, we will provide you with those details at that time.'

"You are not to provide Customers with any estimated ship dates or availability dates. All other correspondence, advertising, marketing and communications (in any format) are not approved and may not be communicated by your organization."

Then, on March 31, Apple notified its dealers: "Please be advised that you may begin to verbally communicate to customers that you will be authorized to sell the iPad." The notices are somewhat puzzling because in a legal context, "verbal communication" means ideas that are expressed in words as opposed to "implied communications." In context, it appears Apple meant to say "oral communication," which denotes spoken conversation rather than print. A verbal contract is not necessarily an oral contract.

"Apple Specialists are locally owned and operated Apple resellers, most have been operating long before Apple opened their own retail stores," a dealer advocate explained. "If you want to support locally owned businesses you can find your nearest Apple Specialist by going to http://www.applespecialist.com."

Update 3: An Apple Specialist wrote in to say, "I wanted to let you know what iPad inventory looks like. I work at a smaller store and we received about 20 iPads that were not reserved or going on display. Inventory is going to be tight tomorrow."