Apple's iPad Sales Shortfall is Shortsighted

Don't judge weak Apple iPad sales too harshly now. There's still plenty of time for that.
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NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- How do you steer attention away from a disappointing product debut? Announce another product.

Soon after

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

announced Monday that

Apple iPad sales

were 300,000 on the first day -- a number well below some of the wildly optimistic expectations of analysts -- the company sent out invitations to the Thursday introduction of its next iPhone operating system.

For Apple investors anyway, it's a good time to have something new to look forward to. The updated software -- iPhone OS 4.0 -- is expected to run the new version of the iPhone, a product of undeniable success.

If the iPad numbers came as a letdown, it could be due to the months of hype surrounding the tablet's launch, which was fueled by ever-rising sales estimates. Most analysts, as the debut approached, pegged initial sales estimates to be nearly twice what Apple booked Saturday.

In the wake of the weaker-than-expected number, observers are left to ponder two possible explanations. One, another wave of buyers are waiting for the 3G version of the iPad. Or two, the consumers' appetite for $500 gadgets might have been over-estimated.

Tech watchers say the 300,000 sales figure, while not a tidy one-million home run, was a respectable debut for a new product.

"I think they're solid, not as big as they could potentially have been, but I doubt anyone at Apple is disappointed," says Peter Rojas of

gdgt

, a tech aficionado site.

Rojas says it may take four to five months before Apple sells its first million iPads.

Other tech types say the one-million milepost may be just three months away, but add that the tablet era is still in its early stages.

"It doesn't matter when they hit a million," says Michael Cote of the Cote Collaborative. "Does anyone remember when laptops hit the first million?"

Apple's enthusiasm for the tablet has inspired an all-out race among tech giants to beat the iPad.

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

, it has been revealed, has

plans to build a tablet

of its own, along with

other entries

from

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

,

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

and

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

.

Part of the disappointment with iPad numbers is that "people were expecting phone-like numbers," says Cote. Phones, he adds, are everyday essentials that typically sell for $200 or less.

By contrast, says Cote, "iPads are more discretionary purchases. It will take a little while longer for the category to develop."

And as for the pent-up 3G iPad sales wave? Don't hold your breath, says Rojas.

"There will be an uptick," says Rojas, but "most people don't want or need a tablet with integrated 3G. Just like most people buying laptops don't want or need one with 3G. They can get by with WiFi just fine."

Apple shares were down slightly to $237.75, about a dollar shy of its all-time high.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York