Apple’s iPad mini makes a small splash with debut

Apple’s scaled-down iPad mini debuted to scaled-down crowds Friday morning — a much quieter launch than Apple products normally receive.

The size of the crowds that line up — or camp out — for the launch of a new Apple products can often be a good indicator of how excited the company’s core fans are about the latest gadget.

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In this case, however, there are a couple of factors that can probably explain the smaller crowds. For one, Apple’s not rolling out its full lineup of iPad mini models Friday, only the models that run on WiFi. Models that run on cellular data are set to go on sale in the coming weeks. That splits the pool of potential customers and makes it difficult to figure out how high demand really is.

There’s also the impact of Hurricane Sandy to consider. With power outages, public transportation limitations and higher priorities likely in mind, East Coast residents haven’t turned out in their normal numbers. Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt, live-blogging from the launch at Apple’s Fifth Avenue store, reported that he saw around 500 people in line ahead of the launch. The two men who were first in line arrived Thursday morning at 6 a.m., but ended up getting sent to the back of the line after leaving for a breakfast break.

Reports on Twitter indicated crowds at Washington-area stores were even smaller. A much-retweeted message from NBC4 reporter Tony Tull showed a just one man standing in line at the Georgetown store at 5 a.m. A 6 a.m. tweet from Georgetown from ABC7 anchor Steve Chenevey said a total of five people had gathered.

Calls to Apple stores to check on the line sizes were not immediately returned, as stores had not yet opened for business.

According to reports from across the world, launches have been similarly muted in other markets getting the smaller iPad today. CNET reported that lines were smaller in Singapore and London, where CNET reporter Luke Westaway described the crowd as a “modest clutch of Apple devotees.”

Analysts had more modest expectations for this launch, with Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster saying he expected Apple to sell between 1 million and 1.5 million iPad minis over the weekend. The third-generation of the iPad saw around 3 million in sales during its debut weekend.

The iPad mini has a 7.85-inch screen and starts at a price of $329. It is Apple’s first move into the smaller tablet market currently occupied by the Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7 — both priced at $199. The competition for the tablet market will be fierce this holiday season, with tech titans Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple all introducing new models for sale.

 
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