By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
March 20, 2012

First weekend sales exceed the iPad 2, but not the iPhone 4S

Eight hours after Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook pronounced himself “very thrilled” with what he described as “record weekend” sales of the third-generation iPad, the company issued a press release clarifying what record the new iPad had broken.

It wasn’t Apple’s all-time best hardware launch. That record is still held by the iPhone 4S, which sold 4 million units in 3 days.

It took the new iPad nearly 4 days to sell 3 million units, according to the press release Apple issued at 5 p.m. Monday.

It quotes Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief, declaring that “The new iPad is a blockbuster.”

It’s hard to do comparisons, because the new iPad launched in more countries than the iPad 2 and was available for pre-order a week ahead of time.

Also, we don’t actually know how many iPad 2 units sold the first weekend because Apple never issued a Monday-after press release. Supplies of the iPad were constrained at this time last year, and the sales number Apple finally released in its Q2 2011 earnings report — 4.7 million iPads — was considered a disappointment.

At 3 million units, it’s hard to cast the new iPad as disappointment, no matter how hard some will try.

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