Predicting iPad sales: How close were the analysts?

Published estimates — from those who dared make them — ranged from 250,000 to 700,000

Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster issued a mea culpa Monday morning after Apple (AAPL) sent out a press release with its official iPad sales figures.

Munster, who had predicted four days earlier that Apple would sell 200,000 to 300,000 iPads over the course of the weekend, more than doubled his estimate to 600,000 to 700,000 Saturday night after he saw the size of the launch-day crowds.

He should have stuck with his original guess. On Monday morning Apple announced that on Saturday it had sold “more than 300,000” iPads — a number that made Munster’s new estimates look foolishly optimistic.

“We were wrong about our launch day estimate,” Munster wrote a few hours later.

He wasn’t the only one.

iPad sales estimates from the half-dozen analysts we surveyed before the launch ranged from 250,000 to 700,000 units.

How wrong they were may never know, because their estimates included both Wi-Fi iPad sales and 3G iPad pre-orders and covered both Saturday and Easter Sunday, when many of the flagship Apple Stores were still open (and at least one, in San Francisco, ran out of iPads).

Apple’s 300,000 represented only the Wi-Fi model, and only until midnight Saturday.

Munster, as far as we know, was the only analyst who ventured an explanation for where he went wrong.

“We originally estimated online-sales to be about 75% of all iPad sales; however, it appears that online pre-orders made up about 50% of the sales, resulting in a significant unit difference.”

Daniel Tello, who was tracking pre-sales through Apple order numbers, had counted pre-orders for roughly 240,000 iPads — two-thirds of which (about 160,000) were the WiFi-only models delivered on April 3. Tello had not offered an estimate of total sales. But if Munster is right, and pre-sales represented 50% of total iPad sales last weekend, Tello’s numbers are looking pretty good right now.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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