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UPDATE: Apple Sells 3M IPads In First Weekend, Best Launch Yet

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--Apple says it sold more than 3 million new iPads since Friday's launch

--Tally makes for more than 58 million iPads sold so far

--Sales report comes after Apple announced first dividend in over a decade

(Updates with more details in first four paragraphs.)

By Ian Sherr

Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

SAN FRANCISCO -(Dow Jones)- Apple Inc. (AAPL) sold three million of its new iPad tablet computers over the weekend, marking the strongest launch for the device yet and creating considerable momentum as the company attempts to grab market share in the fast-growing mobile market.

The release of the sales figure followed comments earlier Monday from Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive, and AT&T Inc. (T), one of the iPad launch partners. Both said the new device's weekend debut, which began Friday, had set records.

The new device, which starts at $499 for the entry-level model, is an important catalyst for the Cupertino, Calif., company's growth. Apple investors pushed the company's shares to all-time-highs as the latest version of the iPad was first being announced, and then again as it was being released. Apple itself also has said it expects the tablet market to eclipse PCs.

Apple has sold more than 58 million iPads since launching the device about two years ago.

The sales report comes on a day of big news for the technology company, which earlier unveiled plans to share billions of dollars in profits with shareholders. Apple said it plans to issue its first dividend in more than a decade, paying $2.65 a share each quarter. The company also plans to buy back as much as $10 billion in stock over the next three years, beginning on Sept. 30, the start of its 2013 fiscal year.

The new iPad is available in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Switzerland, U.K. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It will be rolled out to 24 more countries starting this Friday.

Shares reached a record closing high Monday at $601.10, and rose another 0.3% to $602.85 in recent after-hours trading.

-By Ian Sherr, Dow Jones Newswires; 415-439-6455; ian.sherr@dowjones.com

--Ben Fox Rubin contributed to this report.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 19, 2012 18:04 ET (22:04 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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