Back in October, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook predicted it would be an "iPad Christmas." Indeed, while the tablet market has become ever more competitive in the last two years, Apple has its most compelling iPad lineup ever this year.

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The Retina iPad Mini was one of two new iPads released last month. Photo: Apple.

The iPad has received an additional boost this holiday season from retailers desperate to drive sales in a sluggish economy. Electronics items have traditionally been the centerpiece of Black Friday promotions, but retailers have usually shied away from offering big discounts on Apple products. This year, several top retailers decided they needed the iPad's "star power" to drive customer traffic on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) both offered aggressive iPad promotions last weekend. Even the Apple Store got into the action on Black Friday. These promotions seem to have paid off for Apple, and as a result, December quarter iPad sales are likely to sail well past last year's record of 22.9 million.

Doorbusters!
Wal-Mart was the most aggressive in selling iPads last weekend. It offered a $100 gift card with the purchase of a first-generation iPad Mini, which sells for $299. Moreover, the iPad Mini was eligible for Wal-Mart's 1-Hour In Stock Guarantee, meaning that anyone who was in a Wal-Mart store by 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving was guaranteed the promotional price for the iPad Mini.

Not surprisingly, the $100 gift card was a big enticement. Wal-Mart stores sold 1.4 million tablets on Thanksgiving, and the company specifically called out the iPad Mini as a top seller. A survey by InfoScout found that the iPad Mini was by far the top item at Wal-Mart, and was more than four times as popular as the next two tablets combined! These data points suggest that Wal-Mart may have sold around 1 million iPads on Thanksgiving Day alone.

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A big sale made the iPad Mini a top seller at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving. Photo: Apple.

Target has a somewhat wealthier clientele, and it focused its marketing efforts primarily on the brand-new iPad Air. The base model of the iPad Air usually sells for $499, but Target offered it as a doorbuster for $479 with a $100 gift card as a bonus. This made it the most popular Target doorbuster, according to InfoScout.

In fact, Apple secured the top three spots in terms of Thanksgiving sales volume at Target. The 16 GB iPad Mini was nearly as popular as the 16 GB iPad Air, while the 32 GB iPad Air came in a distant third. No other tablet was among the 10 most popular items.

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The 16 GB iPad Air was the best-selling doorbuster at Target. Photo: Apple.

Even the Apple Store, which usually offers only modest discounts on Black Friday, upped the ante this year. Apple joined the gift card trend, offering a $75 Apple Store gift card with the purchase of an iPad Air and a $50 gift card with the purchase of a first-generation iPad Mini or an iPad 2.

Quick adoption
The iPad Air has seen strong adoption in the month since its release, and the Retina iPad Mini has done pretty well, too -- even despite severe supply constraints. According to usage data provided by Fiksu, Retina iPad Mini adoption has been tracking in line with the original iPad Mini and the fourth-generation iPad from last year. Meanwhile, iPad Air usage has been significantly higher.

The new iPads got another leg up on Black Friday weekend. As of Monday morning, the Retina iPad Mini represented roughly 0.6% of total iPad usage, while the iPad Air (which has been in the market longer) represented 3.1% of usage.

This suggests that around 5 million to 6 million of the new iPads are already in use worldwide. That bodes well for holiday quarter iPad sales, as it does not include sales of iPads that are still in inventory at third-party retailers, or iPads that have been purchased as holiday gifts but not used yet. The original iPad Mini has also seen its usage grow slightly, due to its entry-level price, while all of the older full-size iPads have lost share.

An iPad Christmas
I continue to believe that most professional analysts are underestimating the iPad's sales potential for this holiday season. The iPad has had a higher profile in retailer promotions this fall than it ever had before. Wal-Mart and Target (among other major retailers) offered big iPad discounts to entice shoppers into their stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Whereas most analysts seem to expect modest sales gains for the iPad, the preliminary data support the possibility that Apple could sell 30 million iPads this quarter. That would represent more than 30% year-over-year unit growth. If Apple can hit that iPad sales target, it should also be able to beat its earnings guidance, providing another positive catalyst for Apple stock.

Fool contributor Adam Levine-Weinberg owns shares of Apple and is long January 2015 $390 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.