Many retailers and Apple stores ran out of the computer company’s second-generation iPad tablet within hours of its first availability, suggesting that initial sales could well surpass those of the first version.
Queues at Apple stores in New York, San Francisco and elsewhere wrapped around city blocks, with some people waiting for hours only to find that iPad 2 supplies were gone or limited to the more expensive models with wireless service from carriers AT&T or Verizon.
“I’m getting one mainly because it is lighter and because it is faster,” said Lars Trieloff, 30, a software product manager from Berlin who queued at a San Francisco Apple store. Like many first-day buyers, Mr Trieloff said he already owned last year’s model.
Apple sold 300,000 of the 2010 edition in the first 24 hours, including weeks of online pre-orders, a strong early showing that helped it sell 1m in a month and nearly 15m in the first three quarters.
This year, Apple was helped by much wider distribution channels, including Walmart, and both of the biggest US telecoms carriers’ outlets.
The new version is much less of an unknown, since so many people have tried or at least heard about its predecessor.
Apple began accepting online orders only 13 hours before the launch in stores on Friday evening, and the estimated shipping date slipped from several days to weeks as the backlog grew.
Given the increased number of physical outlets and decreased novelty, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster had expected shorter waits at Apple stores.
Instead, he saw lines twice as long as last year and said Apple could beat his estimate of 5.5m sales this month.
Opening weekend sales estimates by Wall Street analysts ranged from 500,000 to 1m, with prices starting at $499.
While those people in line on day one were disproportionately enthusiastic Apple fans, some said they had considered such rival products as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which runs on Google’s Android software, or forthcoming tablets from Research in Motion, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard.
Those people interviewed said they went with Apple because the rivals were not cheaper, had fewer applications available, and made it more complicated to reach content stored on Apple’s iTunes.