Apple's New iPad Mini Has Finally Launched -- but How Will It Fare?

Apple's new iPad Mini with Retina display. Source: Apple.

In somewhat of a surprise, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  )  today launched its new iPad Mini with Retina display. As expected, supply looks constrained. Will supplies of the new iPad be too limited to make any meaningful positive impact on Apple's fiscal 2014 first quarter results?

A quiet introduction
With no previous announcement of the exact date when the new iPad Mini would be available for purchase, Apple is clearly trying to keep the launch low-key. This gives credence to previous rumors that Apple's supply of the device would be constrained during the quarter.

The hints were subtle. By the time word was out through Apple's Global Service Exchange site for service providers that the device would launch today, it was already Nov. 12 in a number of countries where the device was hitting the market. The next sign the tablet would debut came in the middle of the night when Apple's online stores around the world went offline.

Up until this point, all Apple had said was that the tablet would launch "later in November." The only official announcement from Apple on the tablet's initial date of availability came this morning in a press release.

Will sales help Apple's first quarter?
While Apple's tablet business is the company's second largest, at 16.5% of revenue, there are a number of reasons Apple's latest tablet may not have any positive impact on Apple's year-over-year revenue comparisons in Q1.

In particular, Apple's supply of the device does, indeed, seem to be constrained. Shipping dates on Apple's U.S. online store this morning said the 16 GB and 32 GB Wi-Fi models will ship in 1-3 business days and the remaining models were pegged with estimated shipping of 5-10 business days.

Also, if Apple's Global Service Exchange announcement holds true, the device is only initially available in Australia, China (Wi-Fi only), Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and the U.S. That compares to more than 40 countries included for the iPaid Air launch on Nov. 1 and 34 countries for the initial launch of the first-generation iPad Mini launch last November.

Looking to the iPad Air
With much broader availability of Apple's new iPad Air, and an earlier launch date more than 10 days earlier, much of the first-quarter performance of Apple's iPad business may depend on how well Apple's iPad Air does in the market this holiday season. But can the iPad Air's sleeker design really pick up the slack for Apple's iPad Mini? The smaller iPad has proven to be very popular; in the year-ago quarter, iPad Mini sales accounted for a whopping 60%of the company's tablet sales. With limited availability and a low-key launch, will Apple struggle to boost year-over-year tablet sales in Q1?

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