Apple makes $1.5 billion in a weekend, sells 3 million new iPads

new_ipadFollowing this morning’s announcement that Apple would be returning some of its nearly $100 billion war chest to investors in the form of a dividend and stock buybacks, we finally have the missing bit of context that we’ve been pining for: Apple’s not sweating a few billion here or there, because it sold 3 million new iPads this weekend. That’s right: One million iPads a day. Or 2 million iPads on Friday, and none on Saturday, and another million on Sunday. Or…It doesn’t matter. Selling 3 million iPads is as unequivocal a message as the public can muster that tablets — whether to supplement PC use, or to replace them completely — are here to stay. And it’s also a clear sign that Apple’s current policy of incremental upgrades is working; even if the blogosphere was less than overwhelmed by the inclusion of a faster processor, LTE broadband capability, and a higher-quality display, it’s now apparent that consumers were more than willing to pay a premium for those new features.

Historic Sales

To put this number in perspective, Apple’s iPhone 4S — another device that was viewed by many as a minor upgrade to the iPhone 4 — sold 4 million devices during its launch weekend, according to Beta News, and was largely seen as an overwhelming success. But that number included online pre-orders — actual weekend sales were closer to 3 million.

And the iPad 2, which was a significant upgrade to the original iPad, sold an anemic 1 million units over the course of its first weekend, according to Reuters, all things being equal — although that number may have been substantially higher if the device hadn’t sold out. The first iPad, which was a divisive product when first introduced — the late Steve Jobs was initially criticized for trying to fill a usage void that didn’t actually exist — sold about 300,000 in its first weekend of sales, taking almost 80 days to reach the 3 million sales mark. As of December 2011, about 55 million iPads had been sold worldwide.

“The new iPad is a blockbuster with three million sold ― the strongest iPad launch yet,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, in a statement Monday evening. “Customers are loving the incredible new features of iPad, including the stunning Retina display, and we can’t wait to get it into the hands of even more customers around the world this Friday.” It is unclear from Apple’s statement if the new iPad’s sales numbers include pre-orders as well.

Billion-dollar weekend

By way of comparison, Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, which retails for $199 and features a smaller 7-inch screen as compared to iPad’s nearly 10-inch LCD, is estimated by Bloomberg to have sold between 3-6 million devices during the 2011 holiday season; Amazon has only gone on record stating that “millions” of those tablets had so far been sold. Because of its low price point, the Fire has been heralded by some as the closest thing to a true iPad competitor, and rumors of an as-yet-unconfirmed 7-inch iPad may lend some credence to that notion.

But with a suggested retail price of $499 for an entry-level 16 gigabyte Wi-Fi only model, sales of 3 million iPads should equal revenues of nearly $1.5 billion ― at minimum ― meaning potentially more revenue in a single weekend than Amazon’s Kindle Fire has generated since its release. The sales numbers for the previous-generation iPad 2, which got an unexpected price reduction, were not disclosed. 

AT&T announced this morning that it had also set records with its iPad sales, although it did not disclose those numbers.

Apple’s success with its new tablet may owe in large part to its widespread availability: On Friday, it was in stock in 12 countries, as well as online. On March 23, it will become available in 26 more.