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Apple's iPad 2 launch predicted to have stronger sales but shorter lines

Initial sales of the iPad 2 are expected to surpass the first-generation device, but numerous new points of distribution for Friday's launch are predicted to dilute lines of people.

Analyst Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray noted Tuesday that the original iPad launched at 221 U.S. Apple retail stores and most of Best Buy's about 1,100 American stores last year. The iPad 2 will debut with much greater availability, at more than 10,000 stores of retail partners in addition to 236 current Apple retail stores.

The iPad will also go on sale in the U.S. Friday at Walmart, Target, and AT&T and Verizon stores. Munster expects the new model to outsell its predecessor, which reached a million sales in just 28 days.

"Generally, the length of the lines at Apple retail stores on launch day have been a helpful early indication of demand," Munster wrote in a note to investors. "However, factors like online pre-orders, simultaneous international launches, weather, timing in the day and the day of the week can all impact a consumer's willingness to go stand in line, but may not necessarily be indicative of immediate purchase intentions."

Apple's launch and expansion of the iPad 2 will occur much faster than with the original iPad. Both the Wi-Fi-only and 3G-capable models will be available for purchase from day one, as opposed to 2010, when the 3G model launched a month later in the U.S.

International expansion will occur more quickly too, as Apple plans to have the iPad 2 available in 27 countries in the first two weeks. Last year, iPad shortages forced Apple to delay the international launch of its touchscreen tablet by a month.

Munster has predicted that Apple will sell 5.5 million iPads in the device's launch quarter. That would easily best the 3.27 million iPads it sold in the same frame one year ago.

He also sees sales of the iPad 2 increasing to 5.6 million in its first full quarter of availability. During the company's fourth fiscal quarter of last year, it sold 4.19 million of the first-generation iPad.