Turning lead into gold may be little more than a dream, but Apple seems
to have mastered the alchemy of turning an iPad containing components
reportedly worth a little more than $300 into gold.

With the release of the iPad 2, consumers lined up outside of Apple
Stores waiting to get their hands on the company’s newest tablet.

Not surprisingly given the lines, analysts see strong sales. Some are
estimating that the company sold more than 1m iPad 2s in its debut weekend.

Apple’s continued ability to move iPads is nothing short of impressive. Although it’s easy to forget, prior to the iPad being released, skeptics questioned whether there was a need for tablet computing devices altogether. Even many who are less skeptical wondered where tablets would fit in.

While we may not have all of the answers to questions about tablets which still linger, sales of the iPad 2 demonstrate: there is a place for tablets.

But the iPad 2 number worth looking at most may not be total sales. More important, perhaps, is the number of sales to new iPad owners. Global Equities Research sees 60% of the new iPads being sold to owners of the original device, yet a 236-person survey conducted by Piper Jaffray found that 70% of the buyers polled were new iPad owners.

Clearly, only one of these figures is accurate, and which one is incredibly important. Despite the phenomenal adoption of the iPad, which is currently ‘the‘ tablet, the overall market for the devices is still relatively small in the overall scheme of things.

With billions of computers/laptops and mobile phones in circulation, one has to ask: just how big can and will the tablet market grow?

If the iPad 2 is being snapped up primarily by existing iPad owners, the pie of tablet owners may not be growing as rapidly as one might expect given the media hoopla. On the other hand, if Apple’s breakneck sales of the newest version are driven by strong demand from first-time owners, it would appear that the tablet pie is growing nicely.

The size of the tablet pie, of course, has significant implications for a variety of businesses. Publishers, for instance, are naturally interested in tablets, and for good reason.

The Wall Street Journal has attracted 200,000 tablet subscribers paying $3.99 each week (this figure includes all tablets, including the Kindle), proving that there’s opportunity here. But the WSJ also has 2m print subscribers and more than 1m online subscribers.

For publishers without that sort of existing customer base to sell to, investing heavily in tablet experiences may not be a viable option until the market of tablet owners is significantly larger. And pure-play tablet publications are hardly an obvious winning bet at this point either.

Despite differences in all of the numbers and analyses floating around, one thing is certain: post-PC world or not, tablets are going to be the center of the attention for some time. And we can thank Apple for that no matter who it’s selling to.