If you haven't pre-ordered an Apple iPad and plan to roll the dice on picking one up this weekend, that's what you should expect. Long lines and maybe even some disappointment.
The lines outside Apple's retail stores for the launch of high-profile products such as the iPhone historically have been painfully long and there's no reason to expect the launch of the iPad to be any different. As for the availability at Best Buy stores, the buzz is that only select stores will have them and, of those, there will be a limited number available for purchase. The magic number buzzing through blogs is 15 per store. There are also some Apple Specialty Stores, independent dealers of Apple products, expected to have some on-hand, as well. Find a store near you on Apple's reseller site.
For those who do manage get their hands on one, there should be no shortage of things you can do with it right out of the gate. Apple has already pulled back the curtain on the iPad App store in iTunes, where's there are some 2,300 apps ready to go, including Netflix, eBay, Scrabble, as well as newspaper and TV content.
As far the weekend goes, analysts said the demand could outpace the company's expectations. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster forecasts sales of 200,000 to 300,000 while RBC Capital's Mike Abramsky estimates 300,000 to 400,000. Abramsky is pretty bullish on sales for the full quarter, as well as the first year, forecasting 900,000 and 5 million, respectively, Munster is a bit more conservative, calling fort 900,000 through the quarter and 2.7 million units for the year.
In his research note to analysts, Munster acknowledges that recent signs of greater-than-expected demand may prove his estimates wrong but that he still sees 2011 as the product's breakout year, with 8 million units expected to sell next year. In terms of short-term demand, Munster writes that he believes Apple will sell every iPad it has but that any supply concerns will be short-lived. He writes:
While it is difficult to determine, we believe early indications suggest that initial demand is stronger than the company expected and/or supply issues have slightly constrained availability for the launch. When Apple began taking pre-orders customers could pre-order for home delivery on April 3 or in-store pickup on April 3. A week before the launch (on March 27) the company pushed back the shipping date to April 12 and ended the in-store reservation program for the launch. And in preparation for the launch, on March 31 Apple retail stores began calling those with iPad pickup reservations to confirm the reservation. We believe these signs indicate that initial demand for iPads was stronger than the company expected, and/or minor supply issues have slightly constrained availability for the launch. We believe the supply constraints are minor because the new ship date is not a significant delay. Ultimately, both strong demand and somewhat constrained supply appear to be resulting in the fact that Apple is selling every iPad it can build.
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