AT&T is pitching Apple's iPad tablet PC as a business tool.
The wireless carrier announced Oct. 15 that it plans to sell WiFi and 3G iPad models directly to businesses as part of a larger initiative aimed at helping customers save money and increase productivity.
The initiative, which will begin Oct. 28, will include "attractive post-paid mobile broadband price plans" that are available to customers whose AT&T wireless bills are paid for by their employers, the company said in the announcement.
AT&T did not disclose any more details about the plan.
"iPad is a great fit for our enterprise customers across a wide range of industries who are looking for ways to increase business productivity and offer greater flexibility," Michael Antieri, president of Advanced Enterprise Mobility Solutions at AT&T Business Solutions, said in a statement. "This new offer further strengthens AT&T's commitment to provide businesses with the tools they need to accelerate mobility-led productivity."
AT&T is making iPads available for businesses to buy with a corporate service subscription. AT&T will begin selling the three 3G-enabled versions of the iPad, including the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models.
Apple has reinvigorated the tablet space with the iPad, which was aimed at consumers. However, according to one analyst, companies increasingly are looking at the iPad as a business tool.
"We are getting many requests for help on iPad strategies for the enterprise," Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler wrote in an Aug. 9 blog post. "It's clear why. iPads are a tremendously empowering technology that any employee can buy."
In the blog, Schadler points to three scenarios-salespeople in the field, executives on overnight trips and people, including medical staff, retailer salespeople and warehouse workers, who need access to information while on their feet-as the primary scenarios generating interest from businesses.
At the same time, Schadler pointed to improvements necessary for the iPad for it to gain wider corporate adoption, including offering more business applications for the device and full support for Microsoft software.
Apple is rapidly expanding the sales avenues for the iPad. Along with AT&T, the tablet PCs will begin showing up in such places as Verizon Wireless stores, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target.
The iPad will have a growing number of competitors later this year and into 2011. Vendors such as Dell, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Research In Motion and Samsung all launched or plan to launch their own tablets.
Analyst say the iPad, and the promise of more tablets from other vendors, is impacting consumer sales of laptops and netbooks. In an Oct. 14 report, ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr said he expects 11 million tablets will have sold by the end of 2010.
Orr said in the report that he expects iPads and its ilk to continue to be primarily a consumer buy, though RIM's upcoming PlayBook "may be more palatable to IT managers because at this point it's not a stand-alone device. It needs to be paired with a BlackBerry."
In an Oct. 13 report noting the weakening consumer demand for PCs, Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa said that while tablets won't replace PCs as the primary computing device, "at this stage, hype around media tablets has led consumers and the channel to take a 'wait and see' approach to buying a new device."
Gartner analysts Oct. 15 projected that tablet sales will hit 19.5 million in 2010.