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iPad Mini stock dwindles, supplies to remain tight

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 29, 2012
Apple kick-started pre-orders of the iPad Mini early today, and within hours, sold out the white model in all three Wi-Fi configurations.

Apple kick-started pre-orders of the iPad Mini early today, and within hours, sold out the white model in all three Wi-Fi configurations.

Pre-sales for the iPad Mini -- at 7.9-in., Apple's first downsized tablet -- started just after midnight PT Friday. Computerworld ordered one without any problems at that time.

But within hours, the white iPad Mini was already backordered, with Apple's online store noting orders would ship in two weeks. The black iPad Mini, however, remained available in all storage sizes; as of noon ET, Apple was still promising to deliver the tablet by Nov. 2.

That's when the iPad Mini is to go on sale at Apple's retail stores and those of some of its brick-and-mortar partners, such as Best Buy.

The only version currently available is the Wi-Fi iPad Mini; the cellular model, which supports both 3G and LTE and will run on the networks of AT&T, Sprint and Verizon in the U.S., will not go on sale until mid-November.

It's no surprise that the iPad Mini has run through some of its pre-order stock. Earlier this week, Richard Shim, an analyst with NPD DisplaySearch, said that shortages were inevitable.

"Panel supply chain indications point to an even-more-than-typical tightness for the iPad Mini," said Shim in an interview.

New Apple products are almost always in short supply at launch, but the iPad Mini is a special case, Shim argued. Apple is winding down its relationship with Samsung, a long-time supplier of displays, and replacing it with AU Optronics (AUO), a Taiwanese company better known for making notebook displays.

"We expect some yield issues at AUO. That frequently happens when a company goes into a new category," said Shim. "And Apple is a pretty particular customer."

Apple is continuing to order panels from LG Display (LGD), one of its usual suppliers, for the Mini.

But the opening round of any relationship, said Shim, is often rocky, as the component maker retools, then typically struggles with both yield and meeting Apple's quality requirements. "It takes time to figure it all out," he said.

Although Shim declined to speculate on the end of the Apple-Samsung display relationship, others have not been reticent, and have pinned the divorce on the acrimonious patent wars between the two smartphone makers.

Estimates of Apple's orders for iPad Minis have ranged from a low of 5 million to a high of 10 million. "The upper end is fairly typical of a launch of a tablet from Apple," Shim said.

It's unlikely that the iPad Mini's screen presents any technical problems to display makers: After all, its 1024-x-768-pixel resolution is nothing special, and in fact is the same as that of the first two generations of the full-figured iPad.


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