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Can 300,000 iPads Equal Failure?

Apple on Monday said that it had sold over 300,000 iPads in the U.S. on Saturday, an announcement that amounts to a declaration of success.

iPad teardown shot, via the FCC.
(Click for larger image and for all 17 iPad teardown photos. )

Jonathan Yarmis, senior analyst at Ovum, a research consultancy that's part of Datamonitor Group, sees the numbers differently, as a cause for concern.

"The first troubling sign is the fact that you can still get an iPad today," he said in a research note. "They didn’t sell out."

Apple, he said, has in the past effectively managed inventory to create shortages. Such lack of availability supports the perception that a product is in high demand and presumably stokes the desire of potential buyers.

"Given this prior strategy, one must believe Apple fell short of [its] target," he said.

Yarmis attributes the lackluster launch in part to disinterest in iPad apps -- Apple said it sold a million apps and 250,000 e-books, which works out to an average of about three apps downloaded per user and almost one e-book per user.

He also muses that the iPad's adoption may be limited by the device's lack of a built-in, dedicated keyboard. "I’ve been a tablet PC user for 8 years now," he said. "The pure slate form factor has failed all these years because, other than for vertical applications, people want and/or need a keyboard for regular use. The fact of the matter is that a touch screen or bluetooth keyboard just doesn’t compensate."

Finally, he cites the absence of a camera and the USB charging difficulties as glaring problems that may have affected iPad sales.

The Wi-Fi signal issues that have surfaced in the days since the iPad's launch probably haven't helped much.

Yarmis does credit the iPad with establishing Apple's lead in the shift toward touch-driven interfaces.

It seems premature to render judgment about the iPad after one day's worth of sales. It took the original iPhone 74 days to sell a million units. The following year, when the iPhone 3G launched, Apple sold a million in a weekend.

The iPad may not have exceeded the hype-swollen expectations of some observers. It's not quite the revolution of an Internet-connected computer for your pocket, like the iPhone. But its clearly not an under-performer like Apple TV.

The iPad is a new product category, neither phone nor laptop, a thing of beauty for consumers who prefer Apple's ostensibly benevolent stewardship to the burdens and obligations that come with open systems. It's not for everyone.

It will find a niche, or perhaps ubiquity if everyone tires of managing devices for themselves or if exclusive content becomes the main driver for hardware purchasing.

And the next one will be better, perhaps even magical.