Did Apple Sell 300K or 700K iPads? It Doesn't Matter... Yet.

Last Updated Apr 5, 2010 3:16 PM EDT

As of yesterday, Apple (AAPL) cheerleader and Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster predicted that Steve Jobs and company sold 700,000 iPads on Saturday, upping his guess from the 200,000 to 300,000 range. Right after I wrote a piece this morning nicely saying how his guess was nuts, Apple officially declared that 300,000 iPads went out the door. So Munster was right, and then he was wrong. But does any of this matter? Not yet, because we're still in the eye of the hype storm.

Munster's 700K guess wasn't impossible, but it looked fishy for a number of reasons:

  • Munster has often been wrong in his pronouncements.
  • He went into this predicting 200,000 in the first weekend, while many other analysts refused to make a guess because it was too hard to predict.
  • There were all those rumors about an iPad shortage in the first week, with Apple saying that those who missed an initial cut-off date would have to wait until April 12.
From a perception perspective, Apple didn't want a lot of product on the shelves because it was trying to create an air of boundless success. Having enough product for 700,000 sales would have been an enormous gamble, and wouldn't have done anything for the almighty perception of rarity that Apple works so hard to cultivate and direct.

So was Apple successful? I'd argue that it's simply too early to tell given the numbers. To hit 300,000 was only staying within the range of what most analysts had guessed ahead of time. From that view, it satisfied Wall Street.

But in the bigger issue of what this portends for long term success, things are far more cloudy. According to the Wall Street Journal, the lines in major metropolitan areas quickly thinned and only a few stores sold out of iPads. Because of Munster, the performance was now a let-down from a major trouncing of estimates.

And even then, it's all hooey. It doesn't matter how many the company sold in the first weekend. It doesn't matter how much buzz the company created or what coverage it received over the last few days. Apple is trying to breathe life into a product category -- tablet computing -- that over the years has never had zip. It's a case of raising the dead, and the real measure of success will not be how well the Apple faithful did what Jobs wanted them to do. (According to Piper Jaffray, 74 percent of the hundreds of iPad buyers it surveyed were Mac users and two-thirds already had iPhones.)

The only thing that matters is how successful the product line is over the next few months. And given some of the second thoughts coming from some of the self-admitted fanboys, this is a battle far from won. Apple has to keep the marketing press on, or it could badly stumble. Meanwhile, the news of iPad Wi-Fi connection issues already coming up on support forums isn't a good sign.

Image: Steve Rhodes

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.