Apple today sprung the Retina iPad Mini on customers, kicking off online sales of the smaller tablet that it introduced last month.

Apple quietly kicked off sales of the iPad Mini with Retina tablet today, and shipping delays for some models quickly stretched as long as 10 days.

The iPad Mini with Retina was posted earlier today to Apple's e-store; by 8 a.m. ET, shipping delays for some models had lengthened to five to 10 days in the U.S., the U.K, China and elsewhere. In the U.S., for example, the 16GB and 32GB were to ship within one to three business days, while the 64GB and 128GB models showed five to 10 days.

All the Minis equipped to connect to the Internet through a mobile network indicated the longer shipping times.

When Apple debuted the new 7.9-in. tablet three weeks ago, company executives said the Mini would go on sale this month, but did not provide a date. Previously, some pundits and bloggers had speculated that Apple would start selling the iPad Mini on Nov. 22 because the Cupertino, Calif., company often puts products in stores on Fridays.

Others wondered if Apple would wait another week, until Nov. 29, which in the U.S. is Black Friday, the mega-sales start of holiday bargains.

Neither date was accurate in the end.

Analysts had expected shortages of the iPad Mini because of reported yield issues with its smaller, high-resolution screen, and theorized that Apple pushed the sales launch deeper into November so it could build up sufficient stock. Apple began selling the 9.7-in. iPad Air, which was also introduced last month, on Nov. 1.

Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed shortage suspicions in a conference call with Wall Street two weeks ago. "It's unclear whether we will have enough for the quarter or not," Cook acknowledged. "We will have it, but you really don't know the demand until after you start shipping, and so we'll see how that goes."

Later in the call, Cook added, "It's very difficult to forecast exactly when supply and demand will balance [for the iPad Mini.]"

In a statement today, Philip Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, said, "We're working hard to get as many as we can in the hands of our customers."

Apple raised the price of the 16GB iPad Mini from $329 for the first-generation tablet to $399 for the same configuration with a Retina screen, a 21% jump. The company also retained the 2012 Mini, and dropped its starting price to $299, a 9% reduction.

Tablets able to access mobile networks start at $529.

Apple began selling the Retina iPad Mini today in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Spain and several other markets. In some -- China and Germany, for instance -- all models reported shipping delays of five to 10 days.

Customers can order online for home or work delivery, or place an order for later pick-up at a nearby Apple retail store.

This article, Apple springs Retina iPad Mini on customers, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].

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