Apple iPad sales reach 300,000 on first day

But the figures come in below analyst predictions

More than two months after it was unveiled, at the end of weeks of media build-up and a frenzied weekend of hype, the official number is in: Apple sold 300,000 of its new iPad on the first day on sale in the US.

It was a figure that many in the business community found underwhelming, given the pictures over the weekend of excitable buyers lining up outside Apple stores all over the country, many in fancy dress, some having travelled from the Middle East and Europe specially to be among the first to get their hands on the new device.

The iPad, a kind of super-size iPod Touch, was hailed by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs at its launch in January as a whole new category of electronic device, somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop computer. It has been designed as a new way to read books and magazines, to play games and to watch video, and early reviews of the device were positive.

But at the Apple store in the Meatpacking district of Manhattan, crowds had thinned back to normal by yesterday morning, and there were enough iPad devices on display for all the people who wanted to try out the new device.

While Apple and Mr Jobs are able to generate an amount of pre-publicity and excitement over new product launches that is unmatched in the electronic industry, the real question for the iPad will be how many consumers really do see it as a must-have addition to the burgeoning array of gadgets for communicating, surfing the web and downloading entertainment.

Apple began taking orders for the iPad last month, and the first-day total includes those pre-orders, which were delivered on Saturday, alongside the in-store sales.

Some Wall Street analysts appeared to have been lured into exaggerated forecasts for early sales by the excitement of those Apple fans who had camped out to get into stores first thing.

Gene Munster, analyst at Piper Jaffray, and one of the closest followers of Apple, doubled his forecast for Day 1 sales to 600,000-700,000 devices, only to find he had been right first time. He raised his forecasts for the first three months of sales, too, to 1.3 million iPads sold by the end of June. That would compare to the 1.1 million people who bought iPhones in their first three months on sale.

Sales will almost certainly be boosted again as additional versions of the iPad get rolled out in coming weeks. The versions on sale over the weekend only had Wi-Fi connections; a more expensive version that can connect to the internet over 3G phone networks goes on sale in the US at the end of this month, around the same time as the device becomes available in other countries.

Shelly Palmer, technology and media consultant and founder of Advanced Media Ventures, said the iPad is no replacement for a laptop, which could limit its growth. "It was specifically designed to make watching video, surfing the web and playing games a fantastic personal experience. And if that's what you're into, it will not disappoint. Should you run out and buy one? Only if you want a great, gorgeous, new, shiny, conversation starter."