People in a Chicago store look at the new iPad from Apple Inc. on Saturday. ((Paul Beaty/Associated Press))

Apple Inc. said Monday that it sold more than 300,000 iPads on the device's opening day, meeting the expectations of some analysts while underscoring the challenges the company still faces marketing its tablet computer beyond early adopters.

The figures, which included pre-orders that were picked up or delivered Saturday, were hardly exceptional, despite weeks of hype about the revolutionary nature of a new class of device that falls somewhere between a phone and a computer.

In a research note earlier Monday, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster had doubled his initial forecast of first-day sales to 600,000 to 700,000, saying that "lines were longer than expected and supply was also better than expected." But the actual numbers announced by Apple were closer to his original estimates.

Exceed iPhone numbers

When Apple launched its transformative iPod digital media player in 2001, it took two years to sell one million units. When the iPhone launched in 2007, it took 74 days to reach the benchmark figure.

The company sold 8.7 million iPhones during its recent quarter, so analysts will be watching closely to see how quickly the iPad hits the million-unit milestone.  

The latest model of the iPhone, the 3GS, sold a million in just three days when it went on sale last summer, initially in the U.S. and seven other countries.

Saturday's iPad launch was in the United States only. The device is expected to go on sale in Canada on April 24.

Getting strong Canadian sales could be difficult for Apple, due to a familiar complaint by Canadian consumers.

"If you've ever been sent a link from a U.S. friend saying, 'Hey, (watch) this cool comedy clip,' half the time it doesn't work north of the border," Deloitte technology analyst Duncan Stewart said.

Similar lockouts and a drought of content could face Canadian users in the early days, he suggested.

"If iPads are available in Canada this month, it doesn't mean that the content for the iPads will also be available at the same time," Stewart said.

A dearth of Canadian-accessible content similarly plagued the Kindle when it made its long-overdue Canadian launch, and publishers are scrambling to come up with iPad friendly products.

Beyond the early adopters who gleefully lined up to buy early Saturday morning, once the initial iPad excitement settles, Apple may have to work harder to persuade a broader swath of people to buy one. Many companies have tried to sell tablet computers before, but none has caught on with mainstream consumers.

Apple essentially must convince people who already have smart phones, laptops, e-book readers, set-top boxes and home broadband connections that they need another device that serves many of the same purposes.

The iPad now on sale, at prices starting at $499 US, connects to the internet wirelessly through Wi-Fi. One drag on early sales could be that an update to the device has already been announced that will let is reach the internet over cellular data connections. That's due out at the end of the month, but no information on a Canadian wireless partner has been released.

'We're off to a fantastic start' —Apple analyst Brian Marshall

Broadpoint Amtech analyst Brian Marshall said the iPad's weekend sales met his expectations, especially with many stores closed for Easter. He said the iPad's Saturday sales figure of more than 300,000 units is about 60 per cent of his weekend forecast of 525,000 — a decent showing for a product that has garnered mixed reviews.

"We're off to a fantastic start," Marshall said.  

But he said the device won't be overshadowing the iPhone, whose sales he expects to top $20 billion this year, eight times his forecast of $2.5 billion for the iPad.

"It's really all about the iPhone, but the iPad will generate fantastic sales this year," he said.

Apple also said that iPad owners downloaded more than a million applications and more than 250,000 electronic books on Saturday.

With files from The Associated Press