Apple's iPad will fly off the shelves when it goes on sale, and will build momentum through the back-to-school and into Christmas selling seasons, analysts have predicted.
"I expect a surge going out the door," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research. "There's a group of Apple advocates that will queue up no matter what. Apple has the most effective branding in the industry, and these people think of themselves as acolytes, they do think of themselves as the 'Mac' in Apple's 'I'm a Mac' ads."
Apple has announced that, while the iPad will go on sale in the US on April 3, its UK launch will be delayed until near the end of April. Prices start at $499 and UK pricing is expected to start below £400.
That news had been preceded by reports citing Peter Misek, an analyst with Canaccord Adams, who said iPad production problems would limit the number of units available at launch to just 300,000, considerably less than the million many had anticipated.
Wall Street analyst Brian Marshall of BroadPoint AmTech leaned toward inventory shortages as well, and said that such news might pressure consumers to line up for Apple's new device. "They're definitely going to sell out in a matter of hours," he said of the iPad's debut.
Gottheil echoed Marshall. "I do expect there will be some constraints on supply," he said. "Apple had inventory problems before with both the iPhone 3G and the 3GS. It's not the same - everyone needs a phone - but there's not an unlimited supply of touchscreens."
It took Apple about six weeks to fully stock its stores with the iPhone 3G in 2008. The company had similar problems keeping up with demand for the iPhone 3GS a year later.
After the iPad rush
Once the initial rush is over - which is likely to continue through the launch of the 3G-equipped iPad a month or so after the Wi-Fi-only model on April 3 - sales will drop off until the back-to-school run in mid-to-late summer, said Gottheil. "I see a lot of upside for the iPad during the year, with strong sales in the back-to-school quarter," Gottheil said. He added that it will be a very attractive Christmas product.
Survey data seems to back up Gottheil's sales projection. According to ChangeWave Research, which polled more than 3,100 US consumers in the first half of February - days after Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad - sales of the iPad will gain momentum for at least six months after launch.
Of the people polled who said that they are likely to buy an iPad, only 6 percent said they would put down their money in the first week after its release. That number climbed to 20 percent for two to three months after launch, and 23 percent for the four-to-six month period.
Paul Carton, ChangeWave's research director, cited the low number who said they would immediately buy an iPad to challenge the thinking of analysts like Gottheil and Marshall. "I don't think you'll see in the first weeks people pounding down the doors," he said. "It will take off more slowly, and build."
Starting on Friday, Apple's US online store will accept pre-orders for both the Wi-Fi-only and the WiFi+3G models. Apple's retail stores, however, will reserve only the Wi-Fi iPad for pick-up on Saturday, April 3. The iPad will be available in late April in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, Apple said last week.
Prices for those markets won't be announced until next month.