Update: Apple says 3M new iPads already sold

AT&T also claims record for single-day sales and data plan activations

Apple late today announced that it has sold three million new iPads since the tablet's debut this month.

"The new iPad is a blockbuster with three million sold -- the strongest iPad launch yet," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, said in a statement. "Customers are loving the incredible new features of iPad ... and we can't wait to get it into the hands of even more customers around the world this Friday."

Earlier in the day, Apple CEO Tim Cook had said sales of the new iPad over the weekend set a record.

"We had a record weekend, and we're thrilled with it," Cook said during a conference call earlier Monday to discuss a $45 billion dividend and stock repurchasing programs.

Cook, however, did not put a number to iPad sales this morning.

It was impossible to compare the 3-million-iPads-sold figure with early sales of the iPad 2. Apple stayed mum last year about opening weekend sales of that model. The only time Apple has boasted about early tablet sales was in April 2010, when it said it had sold 300,000 first-generation iPads on the first day of availability. The 300,000 had included several weeks of online pre-orders.

AT&T, one of two U.S. carriers that kicked off sales last Friday, also announced it had done record business over the weekend.

"On Friday, March 16, AT&T set a new single-day record for its iPad sales and activations," the carrier said in a Monday statement.

The new iPad was Apple's first to support the faster LTE networks that AT&T and Verizon have deployed in the U.S.

Analysts expect Apple will sell fewer iPads this quarter than 2011's fourth-quarter record of 15.4 million, but more than the same period a year ago.

Brian Marshall of International Strategy & Investment Group (ISI), for example, has set his iPad target at 11.25 million for this quarter, or a 140% increase over the first quarter of 2011, when Apple sold 4.7 million tablets, including a smattering of the then-new iPad 2.

Shipping delays for the new iPad remain at two to three weeks, an interval that first showed up on Apple's online store March 11, just days after the company started taking pre-orders.

The new iPad will be available for the first time in more than 20 countries starting at 8 a.m. local time on Friday, March 23 through the Apple Online Store, Apples retail stores and select Apple Authorized Resellers. The new iPad debuts on Friday in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

Apple's new iPad features a Retina display, LTE connectivity, and more -- but is it advanced enough to stay ahead of rivals?

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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