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The iPad Report: So How Successful is Successful?

You almost think that the tech media, beyond its obsessions with the marital woes of Sandra Bullock and Tiger Woods, had little else to write about except how many iPads Apple would sell the first day it went on sale. Estimates were all over the map, but many were in the 300,000 range.

The alleged industry analysts who produced those numbers were spooked by the large crowds at the Apple Store Saturday, and thus inflated their estimates big time, with figures ranging from 600,000 to 700,000. Understand that any reasonably accurate estimate would probably require a scientific sampling of would-be purchasers who were there to pick up the units they reserved — or just hoping a few might be available anyway. Then they’d have to calculate just how many buyers chose the online route, and those estimates have so far involved a sort of fuzzy logic I won’t bother to recount here.

In any case, Apple is clearly proud of the first day’s results, revealed to be over 300,000 in a press release issued Monday morning. Steve Jobs felt elated at the news, remarking, in that release: “It feels great to have the iPad launched into the world — it’s going to be a game changer.”

To put things in perspective, these figues cover sales through Day One. During the iPhone’s first weekend, the tally came to 270,000. However, the vast majority of the retail outlets where one might have bought an iPad were closed for Easter Sunday, making a weekend total a non-issue. The first week’s sales will loom higher in importance, and, of course, how long it takes to record one million.

Of course, there’s no playbook for how many tablet computers must leave the shelves before you call it a success. Even if Apple hits that one million level within the first month, it would be far better than the first version of theiPhone that didn’t cross that threshold until after 74 days on sale.

Also don’t forget the 3G version of the iPad won’t be available until later in the month, nor will it be available outside the U.S. until then and possibly later, depending on which country you live in. All told, this severely restricts the number of units Apple can move, and we have no idea how many were actually built. Also remember that many pre-orders actually have shipping dates of April 12th and later. We just don’t know the true connection between initial demand and the number of units delivered so far. We’ll have to wait for subsequent reports to gauge whether the iPad has legs.

Certainly the coverage from the mainstream media in the days leading up to the iPad’s debut was far and away beyond what you’d normally expect from a brand new consumer electronics gadget. Add to that the fact that loads of reporters staked out the nearest Apple Store to interview waiting customers and get some personal interest coverage. Typical for an expected game-changer from Apple, the cover of this week’s issue of Time features Steve Jobs, and there are two stories covering Apple and the iPad within. No amount of money can buy you that coverage, which was largely favorable. Apple’s mystique remains strong.

Indeed, over the first few month’s of the iPad’s existence, sheer hype will drive sales. After that, the word of mouth from early adopters will hold sway, but not just from the Apple fanatics that will buy anything with the company’s logo on it, but regular people who purchased iPads and can give honest reactions to the ongoing user experience.

Adding to the media frenzy is news that Apple will introduce iPhone 4.0 at a special media event on Thursday, April 8th. The invitation, sent to hundreds of journalists, simply says, “Get a sneak peek into the future of the iPhone OS.”

What this means is that Apple will demonstrate the new features and possible changes in the OS, but won’t deliver that upgrade until later this year. The betting is summer, to coincide with the expected release of the next generation iPhone.

This move may also help buttress sales of the iPad, knowing that some of the features that aren’t there now will be available in a free downloadable upgrade within a few months. Despite the possible conspiratorial theory that some buyers might be holding off on iPad purchases in hopes that something better will arrive, the hardware itself isn’t changing. It’s just the software and everyone who buys an iPad now can get that upgrade without paying extra. The user license says that, although it’s quite possible there will be a modest fee for iPhone 5.0, expected in 2011, perhaps similar to the iPod touch upgrade scenario.

While Apple never says much about an impending media event, you just know there are certain givens to iPhone 4.0. Indeed, one enhancement would appear to be a must, for otherwise Apple’s stock price would drop if it wasn’t demonstrated. Of course, that’s enhanced multitasking support. Moreover, there would likely be some needed interface refinements. I realize some of you would, for example, like to see a global Mail Inbox to simplify navigation when you need to check your email. Personally, I prefer to keep the Inbox separate for each account for easier management, but I grant others have a different point of view.

In any case, it’s clear that talk about Apple’s mobile platform won’t abate any time soon.