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Apple sold 1 million iPads opening weekend, or not

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Companies hoping to compete with Apple’s iPad 2 tablet PC received dire news Monday, with some analysts predicting that the company sold as many as 1 million units of the second-generation device in only two days. This monstrous figure, reported by Reuters, tops even the highest estimates made on Friday, just before Apple stores began selling the iPad 2.

“We would not be surprised to see Apple sell closer to 1 million iPad2s in the opening weekend,” Wedbush Securities analyst Scott Sutherland tells Reuters. This number is far above the 300,000 to 400,000 most analysts predicted prior to the weekend.

It is also more than double the 400,000 to 500,000 estimate made by analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, as well as Deutsche Bank’s Chris Whitmore.

The original iPad, by comparison, sold around 300,000 units in the first 24 hours. First-day sales number for the iPad 2 have not yet been announced.

Regardless of the exact number, the massive sales have left anyone hoping to get their hands on the iPad 2 wanting. The device is reportedly “sold out” at a large number of the more than 10,000 stores — which include Apple stores, Best Buy, Target, Walmart and AT&T retailers — that carry the iPad 2.

According to a survey released by Piper Jaffray’s Muster on Sunday night, 70 percent of iPad 2 buyers were new to the iPad. That compares to just 23 percent of iPhone 4 buyers who had never before owned an iPhone.

“We believe this shows Apple is expanding its base of iPad users, which is critical to maintaining its early lead in the growing tablet market,” says Munster. “As the user base grows Apple’s lead widens, and the company has a proven track record of building unmatched brand loyalty, which we believe will be a potent combination as the tablet market evolves.”

Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry has more conservative estimate, in terms of the typical iPad 2 customer, saying that only 40 percent of iPad 2 buyers are new to the line, with 60 percent having owned the original iPad.

Chowdhry also says that buyers preferred the AT&T version of the iPad over Verizon’s model because of AT&T’s superior customer service.

The important thing to remember is that all of these numbers are merely estimates — but if they’re as impressive as some think, we’ll know for a fact soon enough. The “sold out” factor is more telling, however, and could mean that Steve Jobs’s claim that 2011 will be “the year of the iPad 2″ isn’t so far off the mark.

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