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Apple iPad: The Guesswork Heats Up

Ahead of the Apple's iPad launch, there are many conflicting reports on production delays and new estimates.

Updated since 11:29am EST with stock price and Gartner iPad analyst identification.



) -- Analysts are trying to draw a bead on


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iPad numbers ahead of the April 3 debut, but the target is still moving.

Production problems have been confirmed -- and refuted. Delays have been deemed minor, while others call them nonexistent. All the contradictory speculation points to a building drama ahead of Apple's first new product in three years.

Apple's winning streak

rides on continued sales growth, and the biggest test of that trend is the iPad, a pet project of CEO Steve Jobs and a sleek, colorful take on the leader in this race,


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Fans welcome the 9.5-inch media player/Web viewer that brings Apple's deft touchscreen technology to a bigger screen.

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Apple iPad skeptics

call it a vanity device with strong niche potential and little attraction to those outside Apple's core fan base.

Given the importance, analysts are eager to put some numbers on the iPad, both in production estimates and sales projections.

Apple was originally expected to release the iPad this month, but last week the company announced that

April 3 was the official iPad launch date


The slightly later date has helped feed speculation that production didn't get off to a smooth start. Last week, ThinkEquity reported that minor delays would limit iPad production to about 250,000 in the first month and improve to as much as 1 million iPads a month in April and May.

Two analysts weighed in Tuesday with conflicting reports. FBR Capital called the delay reports "false alarms" and said

Apple was on track to build 5 million iPads

by July, according to

Barron's Tech Trader Daily

blog. Curiously, when reached for comment Wednesday, an FBR representative told


that there was no Apple report and asked that nothing be written about it.

Meanwhile, over at Oppenheimer, Apple analyst Yair Reiner's checks confirmed a production hitch and a component shortage that would limit iPad production to about 350,000 units in March. But Reiner wrote that the slow start wouldn't hamper Apple's full year production goals.

"Apple continues to target production of 10 million units for the full calendar year," Reiner writes.

As for iPad sales, the numbers are still changing. Broadpoint AmTech analyst Brian Marshall raised his iPad sales forecast to 4 million from 2.2 million Tuesday citing a strong potential for the iPad to take off as an entertainment device.

"If the device lives up to its potential, we believe actual unit shipments could approach 7 million in 2010," Marshall added.

The upward revision comes a week after Gartner released its first tablet forecast, which called for

Apple to sell 4.2 million iPads

this year, according to Gartner analyst Angela McIntyre.

Apple shares hovered near the 52 week high, up less than 1% at $224.49 in afternoon trading Wednesday.

-- Written by Scott Moritz in New York.


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