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Apple's Global Launch Ambitions Get Grander With IPad Air

Apple Bershidsky Ticker
Tim Cook with Apple's roadmap for the future. (Not really.) Photographer: Noah Berger/Bloomberg

After Apple introduces a new product at one of its signature news conferences, the screen on stage will typically flash the date when fans around the world can line up to buy the shiny device, along with a list of countries where it'll be available on launch day. That list keeps getting longer.

When the iPad Air goes on sale Nov. 1, the tablet will be available for purchase in 42 countries and territories, including China -- a first for the iPad. Apple's third-generation iPad debuted in just 10 markets on March 16, 2012. The next release eight months later, which included the iPad Mini, hit 34 markets on the first day.

Very few companies can pull off Apple's same-day international extravaganzas. (Samsung Electronics is also in that elite group.) Getting manufacturers to pump out enough inventory in time to fill store shelves around the world is a major hurdle. Unleashing marketing campaigns tailored to each market is another.

Not even the iPhone, Apple's biggest product category by revenue, had a more global debut than the iPad Air will. The iPhone 5s and 5c hit 11 countries or regions on Sept. 20. That's partly because in order to release a phone, Apple has to work with mobile carriers and submit to more stringent regulatory testing. (Note that only the Wi-Fi version of the new iPad will be available in China at the beginning of next month.)

Apple's expanded debut "shows they're trying to expand the brand presence and drive deeper penetration in international markets," said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities.

However, such a widely distributed release for the iPad Air could be difficult to pull off even for Apple, said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Ovum.

"It's going to make it really tough to meet demand," Dawson wrote in an e-mail. "We're going to see what we saw with the iPhone 5s all over again, with people waiting in lines, long shipping times and so on. As a result, Apple is going to see fewer sales than it would have if it had launched the devices in a more staggered fashion."

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment. The company can't afford any missteps. The iPad's share of the tablet market has fallen drastically over the last year.

But by making its latest products available in the largest markets on the same day, the company can create a global tidal wave of hype. This one day next month will be an important opportunity for Apple to grab back a piece of the pie.

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