iWant: Shortage of iPads fuels desire

Prepare to wait just a bit longer

Those of you waiting for an Apple iPad might have to cool your heels a bit longer. An analyst named Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who covers Apple, got tipped off that production problems in China might drastically reduce the number of immediately available units. There could be only 300,000 to go around at launch. Compared to Apple’s plans to ship more than 1 million at launch, that’s a pretty big deal.

Supply and demand is a funny thing. When supply dries up, it actually seems to increase the demand, even if for silly reasons. It’s obviously true for essentials like food, but it's also true for gadgets like the iPad. People want to have the latest, greatest thing. And if they can get it and their neighbors and officemates can’t, so much the better. In fact, companies like Nintendo have been accused of forcing artificial shortages of their Wii game console to increase demand for it. That’s why years after launch, Wii game consoles are still somewhat difficult to locate.

Although a shortage could launch a product that is already popular into cultural phenomenon status, like the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls of the early 1980s, I’m not saying that Apple is doing that on purpose. Demand for the iPad is so high that they hardly need to artificially inflate the hype surrounding its launch.

In fact, in the short term, the ones who will make the most money from a shortfall will be people other than Apple. When technology items like this are in short supply, they will crop up on eBay like weeds across your lawn in springtime. People will buy them too, at sometimes double or triple the sticker price, just to get one before everyone else. People will pay anything to be the "cool kid," even as adults. There may even be some people selling iPads they don't actually have, in a scam designed to get the money and disappear before the buyer gets suspicious. We’ve seen that before.

In the long run, Apple says this won’t factor into its shipping plans for its new product. Most people who watch the industry agree that about 6 million units will be sold in 2010. And Apple says it’s on track for a weekend launch with however many units are available right now.

But if you can’t get your hands on one on opening day, try not to fret. I’m sure Apple will make more, just as fast as China can churn them out.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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