SCap_ 2010-04-03_58In the larger “tech wars” of Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Google, the tablet form factor has all of a sudden gone from a relative novelty (even though Microsoft had tried to establish stylus-based tablets for years) to one of the key battle fronts.

Why? Because the iPad, barely 6 months old, has already sold around 7-8 Million units, and is on track to break through 10M units for the year. That makes it the fastest electronic gadget sales ramp-up in history!

Still think that Apple’s deep Archetype Branding to create aspirational products is meaningless? Keep in mind that this record is being set as the wider economy is still largely suffering the after-effects of The Great Recession, and is at best in a tepid recovery.

And as Business Insider reports,

Apple is gearing up to sell 45 million (!) of them next year, says Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White who just chatted with supply-chain vendors in China and Taiwan (via Elizabeth Woyke at Forbes).

Sales are rising so quickly that according to BestBuy and other retail outlets, the iPad is beginning to truly “cannibalize” netbook and even laptop sales (by as much as 50%!). I had predicted the former in my Deeper iPad Intel post, but the sheer speed of the impact is surprising even to me.

How did this happen so quickly? First off, it turns out that the majority of people really didn’t need/want major creation powers with their computing devices, making the issue of “no physical keyboard”, etc. a moot point.

Sure, Bloggers and other writers are still going to need more powerful text input, image/video artists/designers/editors more finely grained image manipulation via a mouse, asf. But this “creative class” is only a fraction of everybody, and even they might enjoy some simple social media, video, reading, etc. consumption every so often.

And keep in mind that people are now able to edit photos/videos on their i- or Android Phones. Not super sophisticated, but I’ve seen some pretty impressive photo alteration results in recent months.

And people love the direct touch interaction, very long battery life (when compared to most laptops), and quiet/cool running with “rapid-ON” startup of the device.

Also as I predicted in that same post, Amazon appears to have successfully positioned the Kindle as the cheaper, and more task specific eReader. There even is a TV commercial out with a lady tanning/reading poolside, that makes fun of iPad’s outdoor glare problem. Smart positioning move by Bezos & Co.

And of course there are signs that the iPad will be sold at Amazon, Target & Walmart just in time for the Holiday shopping season. Somewhat related, Amazon is also coming out with its own App Store for Android smart phone apps. What it means is this: All mobile/tablets, all the time, everywhere…

Which brings me to another prediction of mine and a very important point about category leadership. As I said in the Deeper iPad Intel post, the longer that potential iPad competitors wait to get their products (hopefully actually competitive ones) out the door, the more Apple gains a head start that makes it the de facto owner of the entire category.

By default! Because the competition was asleep at the switch…as Nokia, RIM (Blackberry maker), et al. already were with the iPhone.

We are reaching an important threshold in the next few weeks. Whatever tablet competitors come out in time for the holidays (like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which is launching at all four major wireless carriers according to their own launch schedules, but which may end up being priced too high, possibly $399 WITH contract), will have a chance at competing with iPad.

Especially on price, as is being proven by Kindle. But the window is clearly closing, so it must be disconcerting to Microsoft that there are still no particularly good/credible Windows 7 based tablets on the market. Part of the problem is that Windows 7 isn’t really optimized for touch-based computing, even though it sort of works right now.

But the much bigger issue will be the build quality and power/CPU needs of the devices that try to run with Windows 7. A current entrant into the field shows the main problem: The CPU needs a fan and creates heat/noise, same as in a laptop, while having less battery life for more weight.

So it may be well into 2011 until Microsoft is geared up to compete on par, by which time Apple could control HALF the tablet market for the long haul (as predicted by Category Leadership).

Writes PC Magazine(!) in “Windows Tablets Can’t Match the iPad’s Magic“:

“The iPad has No Competition…Sure the Samsung Galaxy Tab looks cool. Dell has Streak in the wings. God knows, at some point HP will release the Slate that it has been teasing for the last six months. And Microsoft will almost certainly…well, I am sure they will do something… Nonetheless, right now, there isn’t a single tablet that can go head-to-head with the iPad. The product has been on the market for six months and no rival… By the time The BlackBerry PlayBook comes out next year, Apple will be releasing the iPad 2.”

BTW, that 2nd generation of iPads could easily include the 7″ screen form factor I’ve been clamoring for.

Will Apple be running away with it? And if so, how much will it ultimately cannibalize Windows, and how fast? Certainly Wall Street has been in the mood to punish Microsoft’s stock of late.

Opines Goldman Sachs, heretofore forever bullish on the company who’s IPO it once underwrote:

…investor sentiment on Microsoft’s core Windows and Office franchises is unlikely to improve until the company gains a firmer foothold in the growing migration to mobile devices – both smartphones and tablets. We don’t see this happening this year as Apple’s iPad and iPhone plus Google’s Android operating system are well established; a Windows-based mobile device could certainly begin to garner momentum in 2011, but the stock remains in show-me mode until at least then…

The bet seems to be that iPad and possibly Android-based iPad clones will be “fine young cannibals”…