Apple's newest iPad goes on sale this Friday, which has already arrived in some parts of the world.
In-store sales began in Australia, and are headed to 41 other countries, marking the biggest launch yet for one of Apple's tablets. Last year's iPad Mini and fourth-generation iPad launch initially targeted 27 countries, while the third-generation model launched in just 10. One of those 42 countries is Greater China, which was Apple's third-biggest market behind Europe and the Americas this year.
The launch is the first part of a two-stage release that also includes a new version of the iPad Mini equipped with a Retina Display. Apple has said it plans to release that device sometime in November. A listing on retailer Target's Web site late Wednesday suggested that Apple's eyeing November 21 -- a little more than a week before the holiday shopping season kicks off.
While the new iPad Mini is expected to be scarce when it arrives, early indications suggest Apple has a healthy supply of its larger Air tablets available. Initial online sales in Australia, China, and other countries began just after midnight local time, though only sold out in Hong Kong. New buyers in other countries face a 24-hour wait for their tablets to ship.
In Apple's store in Sydney -- where CNET's Seamus Byrne was on location -- the lines were noticeably shorter than they were for the iPhone last month, though still several hundred people stood in a line that stretched around the block. Apple typically puts up barriers for crowd control at that store, but did not do so for this particular product.
The launch comes as Apple's spot on top of the tablet market, one it helped create, is slipping. Apple's share of that market dipped to 29.6 percent -- its lowest ever -- in the third quarter of this year, while the market overall increased by 37 percent. That's according to data released yesterday by IDC, which still had Apple in the No. 1 spot among rivals. That includes Samsung, which grew 123 percent from the same quarter last year, and accounted for 20.4 percent of units sold. During the same time last year, Apple accounted for more than 40 percent of tablets.
The new model, which goes on sale at 8 a.m. local time in the US on Friday, is Apple's fifth version of a tablet since it was released about three and a half years ago. Since then, Apple's quadrupled the number of pixels on the display and amped up the processor and other components like RAM, cellular networking, and Wi-Fi antennas. The new Mini model, a size that joined the iPad lineup last November, has nearly identical specs as the Air.
It's unclear just how many iPads Apple is expected to sell in its launch weekend. Last November Apple reported initial sales of 3 million iPads in the first three days, which was twice the 1.5 million it sold during the third-generation launch in March. Apple might not report its own official numbers until early next week, though it's in a rather unusual situation of selling only one tablet, with a wait still ahead for the other.
Online sales kick off at midnight in the US, with the company's retail stores opening up at 8 a.m. local time.