iPads are booming in big business

January 27, 2011: 3:00 AM ET

For most companies, running a business from an iPad isn't yet possible, but the tablet is still taking an unprecedented and rapid hold on enterprise IT.

Despite what Apple COO Tim Cook says, I don't know anyone who runs their entire business on an iPad. Still, there's no denying that the touchscreen tablet has made leaps and bounds in the enterprise space since it launched last April.

According to a just-released survey from Good Technology (a software company that helps organizations manage mobile devices), almost a quarter of all the corporate devices it activated in 2010 were iPads. That's even more impressive considering the iPad accounted for exactly 0% of Good's activations at the beginning of 2010 (since it wasn't yet released). And Good seems to think 2011 will be even more fruitful for Apple's tablet.

"If 2010 was all about the consumerization of enterprise, 2011 will be the year of the tablet," John Herrema, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Good Technology, said in a press release. "The iPad came out of nowhere to define this new category, and already we are seeing very compelling Android tablets entering the space, with more on the horizon."

I still think that tablets that are geared for the enterprise (like Research in Motion's PlayBook and Cisco's Cius) could face an uphill battle. Of course, the iPad owes much of its success in the workplace to its mass consumer appeal. That's why an estimated 60% to 70% of people who bring iPads to work pay for them out of their own pockets.

And to put Good's rosy numbers in context, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 handset activations weren't accounted for in the survey. Good says its data comes from "thousands of customers across every major industry" including more than 40 Fortune 100 companies.

While the new survey doesn't give a complete picture of corporate device activations, it does suggest that the iPad is no longer just a perk for upper management. Some CIOs are actually showing interest in a more widespread adoption of tablets.

During Apple's (AAPL) recent quarterly earnings call on January 18, COO Tim Cook said the enterprise's adoption of the iPad is unprecedented, with up to 80% of the "largest companies" now deploying or piloting the tablet.

"This is unheard of, at least, in my dealings with the enterprise over the years," Cook told analysts. "Generally, enterprise is much slower and much more cautious and uses things that have been in the market for a long time."

Apple sold over 15 million iPads since the device launched in April 2010, though it's not clear how many of those sales were to corporations. Still, it's safe to assume that the vast majority of tablets currently deployed in the enterprise are iPads. Why? Because, up until very recently, Apple's device was the only viable tablet available. That's why, in the third quarter of 2010, the iPad commanded a whopping 90% of the overall media tablet market, according to research firm IDC.

Even Cook admits the iPad didn't face any "significant competition" in its first nine months. That will soon change, as a growing number of Android-powered tablets hit the market. Despite RIM (RIMM), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Microsoft (MSFT) and Cisco's (CSCO) best efforts, it's Google's (GOOG) Android tablets that could end up being the fiercest competitors to Apple's iPad.

The launch of the iPad 2, expected within the next few months, will likely include enhanced enterprise features like more IT controls. But just how valuable is the iPad – or any other tablet – to the enterprise?

Venture capitalist John Doerr recently described Apple's tablet as "a product none of us knew we wanted." Despite Good's impressive survey numbers, tablets are still a new category and many CIOs are still figuring out how best to deploy, manage and use them in the workplace. And while Apple's Cook may someday see his vision come true, I'm guessing it will be a while before we see a significant number of organizations running their entire business on an iPad.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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