The iPod Touch Holiday Sales Spike, or Why Apple is Building a Tablet

Christmas was kind to Apple (s aapl) this year. The iPod touch seems to have been a popular gift this holiday season, at least according to some interesting statistics regarding App Store downloads over the period leading up to and including Christmas day. App download activity information tracked by Flurry Analytics (via MobileCrunch) shows a massive increase in downloads on December 25.

The iPhone also experienced a holiday bump, although nowhere near the surge the iPod touch had. That’s to be expected, since people are far less likely to give an iPhone as a gift, considering the attendant cell service contract and recurring fees associated with the smartphone. This also marks the first time app downloads on the iPod touch have exceeded those on the iPhone.

Overall, the App Store saw a 51 percent increase in downloads from November to December. Note that only downloads are being accounted for here, so it isn’t clear what percentage of these figures are free apps and how many are paid. In either case, it’s good news for Apple, and probably for top app developers as well. Thanks to the way the App Store is organized, many of these downloads probably came from the top 25 and 50 lists available on the mobile version of the software marketplace.

Apple’s growth rate exceeds that of the Android market by a fair margin, with its 51 percent increase dwarfing Google’s 22 percent spike. Despite the advent of many competitors, and the variety of Android devices available, the App Store’s growth shows no signs of slowing or reaching a plateau.

Which is why Apple’s plans for a tablet are beginning to make more sense to me. Despite all the buzz online about the device, I had a hard time figuring out who Apple would be able to successfully market such a device to, beyond fanbois and tech enthusiasts. But thought of as another way of extending the App Store’s reach and capitalizing on its success, it begins to make sense. Especially when you consider the latest rumors, which seem to indicate that the device, when it does arrive, will more closely resemble an incredibly versatile PMP than a tablet computer.

As long as the price point is kept low enough, I can definitely see iPod touch owners trading up, and people more interested in the movie and video side of things making a first iDevice purchase. In fact, the pricing structure of the tablet is the most intriguing aspect, as far as I’m concerned, and I can’t wait to see what Apple thinks people will pay for its latest creation.