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How Many iPads Will Apple Sell This Weekend?

Last year, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) sold 3 million iPads in three days on its launch-day weekend. With the iPad Air launching last Friday, investors and analysts will be eagerly awaiting Apple's numbers tomorrow. Will Apple outsell last year's launch weekend?

Apple's new iPad Air and iPad Mini. Source: Apple.

Apples to apples?
If Apple does indeed report launch sales as it usually does, comparing the weekend with last year's iPad launch won't necessarily be enough information to judge the health of Apple's tablet business. For more than one reason, this year's launch is totally different from last year's.

First, keep in mind that Apple announced two new iPads in October and is launching only one this weekend: the iPad Air. Apple's new iPad Mini is slated for a launch "later in November," according to Apple's press release for the new iPads. This differs drastically from last year, when Apple launched both a fourth-generation iPad and its new iPad Mini on the same day.

Second, as is typical, Apple continues to expand the availability of the initial rollout The iPad Air launched in more than 40 countries, including China. Last year's iPad launch had availability in 34 countries and didn't include China. 

Third, Apple is often supply-limited on launch-day weekends. The rumor mill suggests a similar pattern this year, with in-store supplies of the new iPad weakening, T-Mobile's Space Gray 128 GB Wi-FI with cellular data iPad Air seeing ship dates slip to five to 10 days, and Apple's U.S. online store seeing shipments for all iPad Air models slip to "within 24 hours." So the question, as usual, essentially becomes: How many iPads was Apple able to actually ship?

New iPads, a giant leap
Though Apple's new iPad is a dramatic upgrade from its predecessor, with a much slimmer form-factor, the iPad Mini is, too. Given the first-generation iPad Mini's popularity and the second-generation iPad Mini's major upgrade to finally get an HD display and ditch its much slower A5 processor for Apple's most up-to-date A7, many consumers may opt to wait for the iPad Mini. In fact, the iPad Mini is expected to account for about half of all Apple's iPad shipments in Apple's fiscal 2014, according to research firm NPD Group. 

Author's new iPad Air.

On the other hand, however, Apple's new iPad Air has taken on a very similar design to its smaller counterpart, getting its biggest overhaul since the iPad 2. That said, the iPad Air could prove to be a more convincing value proposition than analysts expect.

So how many iPad Airs could Apple sell this weekend? It's tough to say. Despite an unfair comparison given the delayed launch of the popular iPad Mini, Apple's larger rollout should help the company beat its 3 million iPads sold last year. Whatever number Apple reports, keep in mind that the number is more closely tied to Apple's ability to ramp up production and meet demand than it is to demand alone.

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