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Holiday iPhone, Mac sales ahead of expectations, iPad 'a little light'

Indications from Apple's supply chain suggest that iPhone and Mac sales are picking up strength ahead of Christmas, while the iPad remains on pace for a record setting quarter, albeit with softer sales than expected.

Analyst Shaw Wu with Sterne Agee issued an update to investors on Wednesday on Apple's current quarter, which concludes in about three and a half weeks. His checks within the company's global supply chain found that iPhone momentum has been strong across the board, with strong sales of the iPhone 4S, as well as the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS.

"This is helping drive greater smartphone adoption as well as enabling share gains against Android and BlackBerry (as evidenced with both HTC and RIMM missing numbers)," Wu wrote. "Our supplier checks indicate much improved production capacity but demand continues to outstrip supply."

Wu has accordingly raised his forecast for iPhone sales this quarter to 28 million, up from 26 million. He has also raised his projected Mac sales to 5.2 million, up from 5 million, based particularly on the strength of Apple's thin-and-light MacBook Air.

Last month, one report said that the MacBook Air now accounts for 28 percent of all of Apple's notebook shipments. The product line, revamped in late 2010, has proven to be so popular that Apple is rumored to expand it with a new 15-inch model in 2012.

While the iPhone and Mac are reportedly ahead of Wu's expectations, he said iPad shipments are "a little light" in the current quarter, prompting him to reduce projected sales from 15 million to 13.5 million. Wu said iPad sales are soft partially due to competition from the Amazon Kindle Fire, but also because some users are opting for a more full-featured MacBook Air.

Even if Wu's prediction were to prove accurate, 13.5 million iPad units sold in the holiday quarter would be a new record for Apple. The company's previous best of 11.2 million iPads came in its last fiscal quarter, along with a record 4.89 million Macs.

Wu's claims do align with what a separate analyst indicated on Tuesday, when T. Michael Walkley with Canaccord Genuity reduced projected iPad sales by a million units to 13 million. Walkley said iPad sales are allegedly slowing due to the expected debut of a new iPad in early 2012, as well as new competition from the $199 Kindle Fire. But Walkley also said any loss of iPad market share will be more than offset by fourth-quarter iPhone sales, which he expects to be 30.5 million units.