PALO ALTO -- Apple (AAPL) released the fastest, thinnest and lightest version of its iPad on Friday, but the usual long lines and hoopla for the launch of a new device from the consumer-tech giant were absent in the early, post-Halloween morning light.

Whether it was a Halloween candy hangover or the chilly morning temperatures that kept customers away, the scene outside Apple stores was muted Friday morning. Around the Bay Area, only a sprinkling of customers awaiting the release of the iPad Air. Fewer than 20 lined up in the dawn hours at Stanford Shopping Center.

lines for the iPad Air in Palo Alto
A relatively small crowd lines up to buy the new iPad Air at Apple's retail store in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. Among the products introduced earlier by Apple are a new iPad Air, which went on sale to the public at 8 a.m. (Patrick Tehan / Mercury News)

"I'm the dork who showed up early," said Kevin Anderson, who arrived at 6 a.m. at the Stanford store to claim first place in line. "I couldn't wait."

The 9.7-inch iPad Air is another Apple design marvel, weighing in at just 1 pound, the lightest full-size tablet in the world, according to the company. Other full-size iPads weigh 1.4 pounds. The tablet, which has a starting price of $499, ships with the same 64-bit A7X processor that debuted last month in the new iPhone 5S and has a thinner frame, giving the illusion of a larger screen.

Anderson, an engineer for Tesla, had been iPad-less for a couple of weeks after selling his second-generation device on eBay (EBAY) for a respectable $310. He has been using mostly his smartphone for Internet access.

"We only have one computer at home and it's always busy Pinterest-ing by my wife," Anderson said, referring to the social media-sharing platform Pinterest. "It's driving me nuts."

Charles Zhou, a mobile-app developer from Sunnyvale, arrived shortly before the store opened at 8 a.m. -- and was still among the first customers to enter the store.

Like Anderson, Zhou said he had been without an iPad since selling his second-generation device last week on eBay for $280. He bought one of Google's (GOOG) Nexus One tablets to try to hold him over.

"I said, 'Let's see if this is enough,'" Zhou said. "And immediately I was like, 'I miss iPad.'"

Some shoppers were in and out of the Stanford store in about five minutes, a few offering only a quick cheer after making their purchase -- marking a stark contrast to the pomp and circumstance of Apple's iPhone launch last month. Other customers popped in for a smartphone repair or to browse, seemingly unaware of the release event.

One customer ran up to the store and asked an Apple employee: "Hey, where are all the people?"

Down the street, about two dozen customers were lined up outside the store on University Avenue just a half-hour before doors opened, a little more than half the crowd that showed up for the iPad Mini launch last year. In San Jose, no line had formed about two hours before the Apple store at Oakridge mall threw open its doors, with about 15 people eventually lining up by 8 a.m., including some couples.

The lines might have been even shorter if Apple had allowed customers to pre-order the devices, as it did with last month's iPhone launch and previous iPad debuts. Software engineer Erasmo Acosta drove to Stanford from Fremont early Friday to nab an iPad Air, but said he doesn't normally go to launch events, and doesn't particularly like them.

"But since (Apple) eliminated the presale, we're out here in the cold," he said. "I don't enjoy it."

An Apple spokesman said, starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday, customers could order the iPad Air online for in-store pickup. When asked why the company hadn't offered presales, he said "sometimes we do and sometimes we don't."

In-store sales of the iPad Air began in more than 40 other countries, including Apple's highly-sought China market, marking the biggest launch yet for one of Apple's tablets. Lines were long at some stores across the globe, and the Apple store in Hong Kong sold out online before the device went on sale in stores, according to news reports. But U.S. launches were much more subdued; about 365 people showed up at the flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City, less than one-third of the crowd that showed up for the iPad 2 launch in 2011, according to research and investment firm Piper Jaffray.

Friday's tablet release is the second product launch of the fall for Apple, and rounds out a busy season. The device maker released two iPhones last month and rolled out the latest iOS update last month. Apple will also start selling an upgraded version of the iPad Mini -- the company's answer to a device midway between a smartphone and tablet computer -- sometime this month, although it has not yet released a date.

Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster predicts Apple could sell somewhere between 2.5 million and 3.5 million iPads this weekend. Apple sold 3 million iPads during the launch weekend for the fourth-generation and Mini models last year.

Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.