SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Apple Inc said on Tuesday it sold 3 million iPads since the touch-screen tablet computer hit the market less than three months ago, boosting its stock two days before the company's iPhone arrives on store shelves.
Shares in the consumer electronics company, which has overtaken Microsoft Corp to become the world's most valuable technology company, closed up 1.36 percent.
Although the iPhone is Apple's main growth driver at the moment, the early strength of iPad sales has surprised some on Wall Street, leading analysts to rejigger their financial models for Apple.
"We as well as the Street continue to underestimate demand for iPad. Part of the reason is that the iPad, as a tablet, is a relatively new product category where it fits in between a smart phone and a notebook PC," Kaufman Bros analyst Shaw Wu wrote in a research note.
Before the launch in early April many on Wall Street had expected the company to sell roughly one million iPads in Apple's current quarter.
Wu raised his fiscal 2010 earnings and revenue estimates for Apple and hiked his price target by $2 to $342.
He now expects Apple to sell 9.7 million iPads for calendar 2010.
"Improved supply and international expansion has helped Apple accelerate the rate at which it is selling the device," UBS analyst Maynard Um wrote in a Tuesday note.
He estimated that every 100,000 iPads sold adds one penny to earnings per share.
Apple sold 1 million iPads in the first month after the U.S. launch on April 3, and had sold 2 million iPads by May 31.
It hit the 3 million mark on June 21, it said in a release on Tuesday.
In addition to the United States, the iPad is currently available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, among other countries. It will be rolled out in nine more markets in July.
The latest generation of Apple's smartphone goes on sale in five countries on Thursday, with early demand for the device already exceeding expectations.
Last week, Apple said it had received more than 600,000 pre-orders for the iPhone 4. Apple apologized after it was forced to temporarily suspend ordering after the online demand overloaded its systems and supplies ran out.
AT&T, the iPhone's exclusive carrier in the United States, also was forced to halt preorders.
AT&T said on Tuesday it is on-track to deliver the iPhone 4 to those who preordered the device on June 15. AT&T said it will have supply in its retail stores on June 29, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis,
Those currently ordering the new iPhone via Apple's online store will have their devices shipped by July 14, according to the company's website.
The site says "limited" iPhone 4 quantities will be available in Apple retail stores on Thursday for those who didn't preorder the smartphone.
Apple unveiled the slimmer, $199 iPhone 4 earlier this month, kicking off its fastest-ever global launch for the smartphone. The device has a better screen and battery life, boasts video chat via Wi-Fi, and a gyroscope sensor for improved gaming.
The iPhone 4 will be available in 18 countries by July and 88 by September.
Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple closed up $3.68, or 1.36 percent, to $273.85.
(Reporting by Gabriel Madway and Paul Thomasch; Editing by Derek Caney, Gerald E. McCormick and Carol Bishopric)