Apple Computer's ( AAPL) new budget-priced computer doesn't go on sale in its retail stores until tomorrow, but it looks as if the company may already have a hit on its hands. Orders placed on the company's Web site for the Mac mini may take three to four weeks to ship, the company warns. Other resellers such as MacConnection and MacMall are experiencing similar, although often shorter, backlogs. Ironically, that backlog may be as much of a curse as a blessing, said Tim Deal, an industry analyst with Technology Business Research. "It's a good sign; obviously people are excited about it," said Deal. But he added, "You want to be able to meet demand at this stage of game, or it's a good way to destroy your brand loyalty." The initial response to both the Mac mini and the iPod shuffle, Apple's cut-price digital music player, has been "incredible," said Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris. But Kerris declined to give sales figures or to say whether demand for the devices has outstripped the company's expectations. Kerris also declined to say how many devices the company was shipping to its retail stores or whether the company thought it would have enough Mac minis in its stores to meet consumer demand. "As with any new product, demand is difficult to predict," Kerris said. "We're working very hard to ramp production of both new products as fast as we can." In addition to its backlog on the Mac mini, Apple's online store lists a two-to-three week wait on one version of the shuffle and a wait of three to four weeks on the other version. This isn't the first time Apple has had trouble meeting consumer demand. Last fall, the company had a backlog on iPods and on computers based on the G5 chip. The company also wasn't able to meet initial demand for its iPod mini when it released the device last year.
"No company can fully anticipate the kind of demand they are going to get for a new product introduction," said Deal, who has no position in Apple shares. "However, Apple is notorious for introducing a new product and failing to deliver it on time." The computer company has had a runaway success with its iPod players, capturing some 65% of the total market, according to its own estimates. But to date, the company has shown little ability to translate the popularity of its iPod into expanding the market for its Macintosh computers. That's where the company hopes the Mac mini fits in. Priced at about $500 in its base configuration, the device represents Apple's effort to appeal to PC users who might have been interested in the Macintosh platform but thought Macs were too expensive to purchase. One surprise reseller of the Mac mini is Target's ( TGT) online store Target.com, which is offering both versions of the device. Analysts have speculated that Apple will broaden the distribution of the low-cost computer beyond its normal network of resellers. Kerris said she didn't have any information on Target.com as a reseller for the Mac mini. Apple doesn't have any new resellers to announce for the Mac mini, she added.