Six Theories for the Possible Short Lines on iPad Mini Launch Day

It's not clear how robust demand for the iPad Mini is. But I have some theories on way it might be relatively low.

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The photo to the right is my fuzzy smartphone snapshot of my neighborhood Apple Store (at San Francisco‘s Stonestown Galleria) this morning, at about 8:30am, on the iPad Mini’s launch day. (I stopped by briefly on my way to work.) In case you can’t tell, it’s a picture of a store that’s mostly filled with employees, not frenzied consumers snapping up iPad Minis.

Now, an important disclaimer: One particular store at one moment in time doesn’t mean much of anything. It’s true that some reports say that the lines are atypically short this time around. But Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt who’s relying on actual headcounts, says that there may be near-record turnouts — at least at the stores where the headcounts were done.

But if it is true that this launch is less of a circus than most Apple-product debut days, let’s consider the possible explanations — or at least six of them:

1. The iPad Mini just isn’t that interesting. I doubt that’s the case. In fact, after reviewing it, I wouldn’t be stunned if its combination of a lower price and a smaller, cuter form factor leads to it outselling its larger-screen cousins.

2. It is interesting, but not so much to the hardcore Apple fans who wait in lines on day one.  I’m sure there are folks who wish to own a big iPad and a small iPad right this very moment. But there can’t be that many of them: Even most iPad fanatics will choose one size or the other. (Me, I’m sticking with my third-generation 9.7″ model.) Perhaps slightly more casual hardcore fans — the ones who already own one iPad, but don’t wish to own two iPads — sat out this launch. And the core audience for the Mini — people who aren’t smitten enough with the iPad to spend $499 or above on one — will presumably buy theirs at their own more leisurely pace.

3. People are waiting for the second-generation iPad Mini. Not a bad strategy, especially if it turns out to have a Retina display.

4. Everyone wants a cellular iPad Mini. They won’t be available for another two weeks or so.

5. Everyone got smart and ordered online. It’s the best way to buy an iPad, unless you like waking up at the crack of dawn and standing outside a shopping mall.

6. The iPad Mini is a quick sell. Selling an iPhone involves paperwork, activations and other complications. (When my wife bought an iPhone 4S, she was in the store for hours, and ended up having to conclude the transaction at an AT&T Store elsewhere in the mall.) Selling an iPad Mini is relatively painless: You determine which color and capacity the buyer wants, then run the credit-card transaction. So it’s possible that there was a good-sized queue at the store before I got there, and the Apple Store staffers (of which there were many) blew through it at a rapid clip.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d speculate that some combination of explanations #2 and #6 is at work here. But I also wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Apple releases initial sales figures next week which definitively contradict the whole “turnout for the iPad Mini was low” theory.

Got any theories or opinions — or reports from your local Apple Store — of your own?