Citing heavy US demand, Apple delays iPad worldwide release

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Apple fans around the world are going to have to wait a little longer for the iPad - heavy US demand has delayed the international release of the device for a month, until the end of May.

"Faced with this surprisingly strong US demand, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the international launch of iPad by one month," Apple said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Cupertino, California-based company had planned to begin selling the touchscreen tablet computer in late April in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and Switzerland.

The latest device from the maker of the Macintosh computer, the iPod and the iPhone went on sale in the United States on April 3.

"Although we have delivered more than 500,000 iPads during its first week, demand is far higher than we predicted and will likely continue to exceed our supply over the next several weeks," Apple said.

"We will announce international pricing and begin taking online pre-orders on Monday, May 10," it said.

"We know that many international customers waiting to buy an iPad will be disappointed by this news, but we hope they will be pleased to learn the reason - the iPad is a runaway success in the US thus far," Apple said.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said last week that Apple was "making (iPads) as fast as we can." "Evidently we can't make enough of them yet so we are going to have to try harder," Jobs said.

Credit Suisse analysts have estimated iPad sales of 4.8 million units this year and 8.7 million units next year while Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty forecast iPad sales of six million units this year.

Analyst Douglas McIntyre of said Apple has either "done too good a job marketing its iPad in the US" or "underestimated the number of units it would need to start to sell the product overseas."

"Apple, which normally runs as perfectly as a company can, has blundered to the extent that customers outside the US will be disappointed," he said, citing "poor production planning" the most likely reason for the delay.

"Apple has tripped, at least a bit," McIntyre said. "But, the interest in the iPad seems great enough that it probably won't matter."

The delay announcement was met with skepticism by independent technology analyst Carmi Levy.

"It's hard to believe that Apple couldn't predict heavy demand for the iPad in the US, and it's hard to believe that the company wasn't able to prepare its supply chain to meet this heavy demand," Levy told AFP.

"This is little more than a marketing strategy that is designed to stoke consumer demand in international markets even higher than it already is," he said.

Levy said Apple could afford such a move because it does not face any competition yet in the tablet computer space.

"Apple can easily afford to stretch availability dates, because most buyers will happily wait as long as it takes to get their iPad fix," he said.

"It's a somewhat cynical means of dealing with consumers in international markets, but Apple is very much in the kind of position where it can get away with this kind of thing," Levy said.

The iPad allows users to watch video, listen to music, play games, surf the Web or read electronic books. It runs most of the more than 185,000 applications made for the iPod Touch and the iPhone.

The model that went on sale in the United States this month features Wi-Fi wireless connectivity. A model offering both Wi-Fi and 3G cellular connectivity will be released in late April.

The cheapest iPad model, with Wi-Fi connectivity and 16 gigabytes of memory, is 499 dollars while the most expensive - which includes 3G connectivity and 64GB of memory - costs 829 dollars.