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Analyst: iPad shipments will blast past early projections

Image: Customer uses an Apple iPad
Apple "virtually owns the (tablet) market," with its iPad, which is "expected to dominate at least through 2012," according to research firm iSuppli Corp.Paul Sakuma / AP file

Apple, which has already sold 3 million iPads in three months, is "ratcheting up its iPad production targets to meet booming demand," according to iSuppli Corp., which said Tuesday it is upping its shipping forecast based on higher iPad production.

iSuppli said it now "predicts Apple will ship 12.9 million iPads in 2010, an increase from the previous forecast issued April 2 of 7.1 million units." The El Segundo, Calif.-based firm said it believes iPad shipments will grow to 6.5 million in 2011 and 50.4 million in 2012. The tablet starts at $499 for a 16-gigabyte version that runs on Wi-Fi only. The most expensive iPad, with 64 gigabytes and both Wi-Fi and 3G cellular service for Internet access, is $829.

While other major companies have talked about releasing a tablet this year, few have done so yet. Some smaller companies are moving forward with their own devices.

"The iPad is shaping up to be the 'Tickle Me Elmo' of the 2010 holiday season, with product demand expected to vastly exceed available supply," said Rhoda Alexander, director of monitor research for iSuppli, in a statement.

That analogy to the 1996 children's toy may not please Apple, which doesn't comment on reports such as iSuppli's. Apple doesn't view the iPad as a fad, but rather as a template for the future of mobile computing.

iSuppli noted in its report that Apple has increased iPad manufacturing goals to suppliers "across Asia," and that "the key to continuing success will be how quickly Apple responds to issues as they arise and whether the company can align suppliers to meet demand needs," and that iSuppli's " latest research indicates there is much higher production than previously expected for two key components: LCD panels and NAND flash (for memory)."

Alexander said the "only limitation on iPad sales now is production — and not demand."

"Apple has taken a very controlled approach introducing this product to new markets, with manufacturing limitations likely being the major inhibitor on how quickly iPad sales expand."

The company will start selling the iPad in nine other countries — Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore — on Friday, making the tablet available in a total of 19 countries.

iSuppli said the iPad "virtually owns the (tablet) market, and the device is expected to dominate at least through 2012.

"In comparison, much of the competition delayed launching rival offerings following the iPad debut to allow time to reconfigure products."

Companies Asus and Acer, iSuppli said, are expected to come out with tablets in the fourth quarter of 2010, "joining the likes of Dell, JooJoo, and Germany’s WePad — but competition from Apple competitors is not expected to be significant before 2011, when Hewlett-Packard and others are expected to enter the fray."