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Thursday, March 10, 2011, 11:20 pm PT (02:20 am ET)

Analysts: Apple could sell 600,000 iPad 2s during debut weekend

Analysts predict Apple could sell as many as 600,000 units of the iPad 2 during its debut weekend, a figure nearly twice the amount of the original iPad launch.

Analyst Brian Marshall of Gleacher & Co. sees Apple selling more than a half-million in unit sales on its way to outselling the original iPad, according to Bloomberg. By way of comparison, Apple sold 300,000 units of the first-generation iPad in its first 24 hours of availability last April.

Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies, also believes sales of the iPad 2 could top 500,000 this weekend. “Apple has such a huge lead,” said Bajarin. “Competitors are going to be chasing Apple for many years.”

According to the report, analysts from Romand & Renshaw and Piper Jaffray & Co. also expect the iPad 2 to outsell its predecessor. Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray predicts Apple will sell 5.5 million units of the iPad 2 in its launch quarter, handily beating the 3.27 million iPads the company sold during the original iPad's debut quarter last year.

Online orders for Apple's faster, thinner and lighter iPad 2 begin at 1:00 a.m. PT, 4:00 a.m. ET on Friday. Brick-and-mortar sales of the tablet start at 5:00 p.m at all 236 U.S. Apple retail stores and at more than 10,000 retail stores from retail partners Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Verizon and AT&T.

Early reviews of the iPad 2 have praised Apple for improvements made to the device that make it thinner and lighter, while preserving battery life and maintaining aggressive pricing.