Apple could sell more than six million iPads this year, analysts said as the company’s share price hit an all-time high ahead of the US launch of the tablet computer.After months of hype, speculation and secrecy, hundreds of thousands of customers who have placed pre-orders will get their hands on the touchscreen computing device on Saturday.Apple is pitching the iPad as a bridge between a smartphone and notebook computer.The iPad resembles a large iPhone, with a 9.6in touchscreen, and can run most of the 100,000-plus applications, games and entertainment that has helped Apple to sell more than 40 million iPhones in less than three years.Apple has announced that iPads ordered in recent days will not be delivered until April 12, indicating that demand is outstripping supply. Pre-sale figures have led several analysts to raise their estimates of overall sales.Katy Huberty, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said that she now expected Apple to sell about 2.5 million units in its first quarter on the market – considerably ahead of her previous estimate of 750,000 – and more than 6 million in 2010.She estimated that every 1 million units sold increased the company’s share price by 25 cents.Barclays Capital expects Apple to sell about 5 million iPads in 2010. Macquarie Research’s estimated figure is 4 million.The iPad will target the growing sub-$800 consumer laptop market, which currently totals 30 million units in the US and 120 million globally.Analysts said the iPad could generate as much as $4.6 billion (£3 million) in new revenue for Apple by 2011.It is unclear how sales of the iPad will hit sales of other Apple products, such as the MacBook laptop line and the iPod Touch, a small hand-held music player and computer.Apple’s shares hit a record $233.87 on the Nasdaq stock market on yesterday. The stock has risen about 15 per cent since the company held a media event to introduce the iPad in January.Early reviews praised the device’s intuitive touch screen and responsive browsing experience but also noted it does not have a camera for video chat and it does not support Adobe’s Flash video which is used on most popular video websites.Apple is also launching its own digital book business in the US for the iPad to compete with the Kindle from Amazon and other e-readers and e-books. Magazine and newspaper groups are launching iPad formats in the hope that the tablet device will provide a bridge for print media to a digital future.The iPad is expected to set off a wave of similar tablet computer launches from rival companies, including Sony, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard.
Apple could sell more than six million iPad