More than 25 percent of all tablet computers will be purchased by enterprises, an incredible figure for a market that only established credibility with Apple's successful launch of its iPad last April.
Deloitte, a consultancy that released its annual predictions Jan. 18, also predicts that one-quarter figure could well rise in 2012 and beyond as corporations begin to realize the tablet dwarfs the laptop in portable PC capability.
"Although some commentators view tablets as underpowered media-consumption toys suitable only for consumers, more than ten million of the devices will likely be purchased by enterprises in 2011," according to the Deloitte report.
For perspective, IDC said the computing industry will ship nearly 45 million tablets in 2011. Deloitte offered four reasons for the corporate tablet surge this year.
First is the consumerization of IT. Knowledge workers buy tablets for their personal use, and then realize the gadgets work well for their daily work tasks. On a Web-connected tablet, the corporate worker can easily transition from playing music, watching movies or playing games to checking enterprise e-mail and applications.
Second, some retail, manufacturing and health care industries are testing tablet use for their employees. Deloitte thinks 5 million tablets could be deployed in retail and health care alone this year.
Third, Deloitte believes enterprise software providers are receiving requests for iPad apps and other tablet-tailored programs. The firm said large players in ERP, ECM, CRM -- think Oracle, Salesforce.com, SAP and Microsoft -- are writing secure apps that can be provisioned across an entire company.
Fourth and finally, the tablet form factor is driving adoption in the boardroom; it's relative flatness makes for an unobtrusive computing device.
What devices and operating systems will be used? Deloitte said 70 to 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies will support at least one tablet variant for some portion of their work force. Enterprise IT departments have strong preferences for certain operating systems.
This means OS market shares in enterprise tablets might closely mirror OS market shares in smartphones and PCs. So the enterprise will see millions of iPads and Android tablets, and everything else.
Naturally, the iPad is the tablet category firestarter. IDC, which said iPad captured nearly 90 percent of the 17-million-unit tablet market, expects the iPad to continue to rule for the next couple years.
Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab are certainly an option, though the smaller 7-inch screen and dated Android 2.2 OS build make it less than optimal for the traveling sales worker who wants to do video conferencing and make sure all of their apps fit on the screen proportionally.
Expect the Motorola Xoom, Toshiba tablet and other tablets running Android 3.0 to fill those needs in the coming months.
RIM's PlayBook, with its BlackBerry tethering and enterprise-grade security trust, will be a powerful option when it launches this spring. Microsoft Windows 7 and HP webOS tablets will sell given those companies collective enterprise cachet.
Enterprises are faced with a serious quandary. Do they support multiple types of tablets, which makes workers happy but incurs greater support costs, or standardize on a single type?