Tablet PCsNearly half of children aged 6-12 (44%) want an iPad in their stocking this holiday season, according to Nielsen. In fact, Apple devices comprise the top three items on their wish lists, with the iPod Touch and iPhone ranking highly. Among teens, the iPad also topped their list (24%).

Further down their lists are non-Apple tablets; 25% of 6-12 year olds and 17% of teens want one. eReaders also make their lists, with 17% of 6-12 and 18% of teens requesting one.

While students may want iPads, the reality is that not many will get them. At $500 for the cheapest model — and little chance of them going on sale — most parents won’t be buying one for their children. Kids’ best hope is that Santa brings one for the family, but for most, the device will remain aspirational.

What they may get instead is a Kindle Fire, Nook Color, or Nook Tablet. At less than half the price of an iPad — the Fire and Color are $200, and the Nook Tablet is $249 — the hybrid eReader/tablets have much of the same functionality of a full-blown tablet, if a little less flash and pizzazz. Both Kindle and Nook have been talking up their media partnerships with Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, and more. And both offer a wide range of apps, including popular games like Angry Birds and Scrabble.

Kids who get Kindle or Nook tablets will hardly be disappointed. The devices does just about everything that an iPad does, despite being somewhat limited by the Amazon or Barnes & Noble software that comes pre-loaded on the devices. They may not have full access to the Android Market, but most won’t even miss it with the wide variety of apps and services they’ll be able to access.

Google may be the real winner this holiday season. It will be putting Android devices into the hands of lots of young people. The Nook and Kindle tablets may not have an open Android operating system, but users will become familiar with a slightly modified version of the Android Market and its apps. And for the adventurous Fire or Nook tablet owner, the devices are easily “rooted” to operate as a fully-functioning Android tablet, with access to the full Android Market.

For the foreseeable future, the iPad will likely remain aspirational, but if students find that the Nook and Kindle devices satisfy their needs and they enjoy using devices with Android software, they could change their minds, not only about tablets, but also about future phone purchases. But that hinges on Android delivering an exceptional experience.