The iPad, for now at least, is a hit. In the months between Apple’s unveiling of the new tablet device in January and its retail availability Saturday, there was rampant speculation over whether consumers would take to the device the way is has other Apple products like the iPod and the iPhone.

And while official sales figures won’t be in for some time, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster estimates Apple sold between 600,000 and 700,000 iPads on Saturday, double his pre-sale forecast. Those figures include the pre-orders Apple began taking the day the iPad was introduced. His forecast for all of 2010 increased from 2.8 million to 5.5 million.

The iPhone, for all its hype, only sold 270,000 the weekend it became available in 2007, selling out in most places. Much of that was due to limited supply. Strong iPhone sales were expected as it was, after all, a phone - something consumers could easily understand. What helped the iPhone stand apart was the fact that it did what few other phones could do, and did them better. But the iPad is an entirely new category of device. It’s still not yet clear how iPad owners will use their devices, and there are plenty of consumers still scratching their heads trying to determine if the iPad is something they even need.

Apple did not sell out its initial inventory. That’s either a testament of its ability to meet demand or a sign of weak overall demand. While Apple stores had long lines of interested buyers waiting for their chance to enter, Best Buy locations were far less intense. A visit to a Denver Best Buy that prominently features an Apple display had three iPads available to try out, but few customers taking advantage, and more than 60 devices still on hand to purchase.

But for the Apple faithful, this weekend was a no-brainer. The only reason many held off on picking up an iPad was to wait for the 3G version that comes with connectivity to the AT&T network, expected later this month.

The question is: What happens now? With Apple loyalists and the rest of the low-hanging fruit now satisfied, all eyes will be on how iPad sales go from here. Will the continue a slow, steady climb the way the iPhone did, or will sales flatten out and possibly even fall?

Related Stories Around the Web:
- CNET: Why People Bought the iPad
- Seattle Post Intelligencer: 5 Things I Love/Hate About the iPad
- PC Mag: Analyzing the Analyst