Analysts estimate that about 2.3 million of the new iPads sold over the weekend were the mini-tablets, surpassing expectations of 1 million to 1.5 million.
Wall Street, which was disappointed with Apple's latest quarterly earnings, had been looking to the iPad mini to boost demand during the crucial year-end holiday shopping season as competition reaches a fever pitch. Microsoft Corp became the latest major entrant to the market last month with the Windows-driven Surface.
Apple had never before introduced two different iPad models in one quarter. Raymond James analyst Tavis McCourt said that while the sales number looked good, the company would need to sell another 20 million iPads this quarter to meet his estimate.
"There's still a lot of wood to chop in the quarter," McCourt said.
The company said it had shipped many of the new iPads ordered before the release date, but would not send some out until later this month.
"We set a new launch weekend record and practically sold out of iPad minis," Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said in a statement. "We're working hard to build more quickly to meet the incredible demand."
HOLIDAY SALES CRUCIAL
Apple shares were up 1.7 percent at $586.50 in morning trading on Nasdaq, still down more than 16 percent from a record high set in September.
The iPad mini takes aim at Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire. At stores around the world, the product's debut drew sparser crowds than previous launches did, dampening initial optimism for sales. Still, the mini attracted hundreds of people in many locations.
Apple heads into the current quarter after refreshing almost all of its product lines, from Macintosh computers to tablets.