Apple's iPad 2 Hits Stores Friday Afternoon

Trailblazing yet again, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will kickoff sales of its iPad 2 Friday afternoon in a move that will widen its already strong hold on the tablet market.

The first tablets will be sold starting at 5 PM local time, though consumers looking to get a lead and avoid the lines could have purchased the tablet online starting at 1 AM.

The original iPad, launched last April, was the first of its kind on the market. Apple sold more than 300,000 on the tablet's first day, with sales hitting a whopping 15 million in the first nine months, 7.3 million of which went to holiday shoppers during the months of October through December.

The release of the tablet last year sent waves through the industry, with several Apple rivals launching imitators throughout 2010, though none have been able to capture the demand and market share as Apple.

The new iPad model has several more features than its predecessor, including dual-cameras, with camera-focused apps as well as a thinner contour available in both black and white. The pad is being sold in the range of $499 to $829, depending on the storage, which is the same price as the original.

The newer version of the tablet will be available in many more stores than the earlier model, placing pressure on the tech-giant as analysts wait for the device to outpace its predecessor. The iPad 2 will be sold in Apple, AT&T (NYSE:T), Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Target (NYSE:TGT) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) stores.

After its launch in the U.S., iPad 2 will hit other global markets, including Mexico and Europe, starting on March 25.

Tablet sales are expected to surge to more than 50 million units this year, with Apple capturing more than 70% of the market.