iPad Air Flies on First Weekend: Analysts (Update 2)

Updated from 10:35 a.m. EST to include comments from AT&T on activations.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Apple (AAPL) may not announce how many people purchased the iPad Air this weekend, but looking at usage trends, it appears to be quite a lot.

Mobile app marketing company Fiksu has released data suggesting that early iPad Air adoption appears to be around five times greater than the previous version of the 9.7-inch iPad, which was released in October 2012. Fiksu is measuring the data by using its own apps on the devices, so obviously it should be taken with a grain of salt. Even so, it looks like the iPad Air, with its radically redesigned body, is off to a good start.

The research firm also noted that Apple's iOS 7 operating system appears to be ahead of previous OSes with regards to adoption. After 47 days of release, 71.7% of users are using iOS 7, compared to 63.9% for iOS 6, and 51.9% for iOS 5.

It's tough to tell how many iPad Airs were sold this weekend, though we can get some idea. Last year, Apple announced it sold over 3 million new iPad 4 and iPad Mini models. If usage is five times greater, assuming a 33% to 67% split of iPad 4 and iPad Mini models sold, that could mean Apple sold roughly 5 million iPad Air models this weekend.

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White notes a good percentage of those sales are coming from older iPad users. "Our survey work of 106 buyers of the iPad Air in NYC indicates that 73% of respondents were upgrading from older iPad models, followed by 14% moving from non-iPad tablets, and 13% were first-time tablet buyers," White wrote in a research note. "The biggest shift to the iPad Air came from the iPad 2 (31% of respondents), followed by 18% from the iPad 3, and 16% from the original iPad." He rates Apple shares "buy" with a $777 price target.

It's unlikely that Apple will announce iPad Air sales for this weekend, most likely announcing iPad sales figured when the iPad Mini with Retina Display is launched, later this month.

Late in the day Monday, AT&T (T) announced that iPad activations were up 200% year-over-year in the three days that the new iPad Air was available. "iPad activations on AT&T increased more than 200% over the past three days compared to last year's launch weekend, driven by consumer excitement around the new iPad Air and the popularity of AT&T Mobile Share, which lets customers add an iPad to their existing data plan for just $10 a month," said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility. "We also saw strong demand for AT&T Next, which offers customers an iPad for $0 down on the nation's fastest and most reliable 4G LTE network."

Apple has placed a tremendous amount of resources on its tablet initiative, as it seeks to hold onto its dominant position not only in market share, but also in usage share. According to IDC, Apple held 29.6% of the tablet market in the third quarter, down from 40.2% in the year-ago quarter. However, on Apple's earnings call, the company said usage share is more important than market share. "We are winning with our products in all the ways that are most important to us, in customer satisfaction, in product usage and in customer loyalty."

The iPad Air has received rave reviews for its redesign, with notable gadget review Walt Mossberg called it the "the best tablet [he's] ever reviewed." The iPad Air, which comes in space gray and silver/black, is 20% thinner than the previous iPad. The Wi-Fi version weighs just 1 pound, compared to 1.33 pounds for the iPad 2, which is still on sale. It comes in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB models, starting at $499 for Wi-Fi and $629 for LTE versions.

Talking on its earnings call, Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook heaped incredible amounts of praise on both products, especially the iPad Air. "And iPad Air is just, it's an absolutely incredible product, the best iPad we have ever done," Cook said. "And so I think all of these are going -- these products are going to do really well. I think it's going to be an iPad Christmas. But we'll see. We will report the numbers back to you in January how we did. But we're pretty confident."

Judging by first weekend usage figures, Apple appears well on its way to an "iPad Christmas" -- and then some.

--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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