Apple Sells Three Million New iPads on Opening Weekend

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Scott Eells / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Apple’s new iPad boasts relatively modest incremental improvements from the previous version — most notably a sharper screen as well as faster computing and wireless speeds — but consumers proved over the weekend that demand for the company’s latest gadget is hotter than ever. Apple says it sold over 3 million units of the device following its launch last Friday, in a sign that Apple’s business continues to fire on all cylinders.

Apple’s new iPad debut also suggests that the company will report another blockbuster quarter of financial results for the period that concludes at the end of March. With prices ranging from $499 to $829, that means Apple had iPad sales of at least $1.5 billion over the weekend. Separately, AT&T announced that it “set a new single-day record for its iPad sales and activations,” though it didn’t disclose a figure. And Apple spokesperson said that AT&T sales are included in the 3 million figure reported by the tech giant.

“The new iPad is a blockbuster with three million sold―the strongest iPad launch yet,” Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said in a statement. The device went on sale in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Switzerland, UK and the US Virgin Islands.

The red-hot launch is further evidence that consumers have fallen in love with the tablet computer, a product category that failed to catch on for over a decade before the iPad’s debut. It took the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’s legendary design prowess to produce a product that the public has unambiguously fallen in love with — much as they did with the iPhone, which upended the mobile phone market.

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To put Apple’s 3 million new iPad sales in perspective, it took the first iPad 28 days to reach 1 million units sold when it went on sale in April of 2010. The latest version of the iPhone — the iPhone 4S — sold 4 million units when it went on sale last October, at a much lower price.

“The bottom line is the iPad is ramping at an accelerating rate,” Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster wrote Tuesday in a note to clients cited by Forbes. “We believe the unprecedented ramp of the iPad over the past year is evidence that the tablet market will be measurably larger than the PC market.” He increased his estimate of 2012 iPad sales to 66 million from 60 million.

In a good sign for Apple, which has had a hard time keeping up with consumer demand both for the iPad and iPhone, it appears that Apple’s supply chain was able to deliver enough components for the company to meet the strong initial consumer appetite for the new iPad. But the company better be girding for another burst of buying: This Friday, March 23rd, the new iPad will go on sale in 24 more countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

In a sign that Apple still is only scratching the surface of the potential global iPad market, neither China nor India — the world’s most populous nations, and among the fastest-growing — are on that list. Already, reports out of China are suggesting that some 200,000 new iPads have been smuggled into the country — in an indication of the colossal demand for Apple products there.