The iPad may have carried all before it in the consumer tablet market, but the corporate market seems still to be up for grabs, with companies more cautious in their commitments.
Apple has first-mover advantage. On its quarterly earnings call in January, the Silicon Valley company said nearly all the U.S. top companies were using the iPad to some degree "to improve work flows, business processes and customer engagements."
"Generally, our clients are telling us: 'We are deploying the iPad or allowing the iPad into the workplace as a bring-your-own-device [BYOD] we are looking at Android, but are not ready yet to commit to it; and we are waiting for Microsoft'," says Carolina Milanesi, consumer technologies and markets analyst at Gartner, the research company.
Google's Android operating system leads Apple's iOS and the iPhone in smartphones, but has not had the same success in tablets, while Microsoft surrendered an early lead with Windows-based tablets, as businesses take a wait-and-see approach. The more touch- and app-friendly Windows 8 is due this year.
Research In Motion is offering a more flexible approach by introducing BlackBerry Balance with its PlayBook tablet – a safe "sandboxing" of part of the tablet for personal use.
"This allows users to have their own space on the device, so they can load games, browse, play music – do what they want, rather than the old days of locking it down," says David Heit, director of product strategy for RIM.
BlackBerry Balance is part of a 2.0 version of the Playbook's software being introduced. The tablet has been a disappointment for RIM – in December 2011, it announced a $485-million charge for unsold PlayBooks.
The device originally relied on bridging software for e-mail and calendar to be accessed on the tablet through a companion BlackBerry smartphone – a criticized modus operandi no longer needed with 2.0.
"The idea of the bridge was that this leveraged the security already on the BlackBerry smartphone, the big benefit being it allowed a lot of organizations a bit more time to figure out their strategy for tablets," explains Mr. Heit.
Ms. Milanesi says Android tablets' problems are related to the Android market, where a lack of control over apps is raising security concerns.
"You can't count on users not downloading apps, because that's what they want the tablet for. So, for enterprises, it means they have to deploy something on top of Android from a security and device management perspective and that entails higher costs."
For Android tablet manufacturers, of which Lenovo and Samsung are favoured by companies, says Gartner, concerns about security represent an opportunity.
"When we designed our Thinkpad tablets, we thought about the challenges for the IT department in securing devices that are instant-on, portable and easily forgotten – people just leave them lying around," says Stephen Miller, Lenovo product ambassador.
Lenovo's security features include "geostamping" devices, so that they are locked and become unusable if taken out of the office or a defined area. They can also be wiped of all data remotely.
Another feature is custom imaging – allowing a standard set-up for company-issued tablets, with defined and approved apps on specified screens. Additional apps can be delivered over the air and Lenovo offers control over custom app stores.
Non-iPad tablet makers have also sought an advantage in a feature Apple turned its back on many years ago with the failure of its Newton personal digital assistant – pen-based input, with a number of manufacturers integrating a stylus and pen-specific software in their devices.
The digital paper company Anoto is working on the concept of a folder with a tablet and special writing pad next to it. Using the digital pen on the pad streams the writing in real time to the screen of the tablet.
"More than 80 per cent of all daily capture in the enterprise is with paper still," says Stein Revelsby, Anoto chief executive.
"Unless it wants to lose market share to Samsung [whose new Galaxy Note tablet features a pen] I think Apple needs to do something with pens as well."
While a recent NPD In-Stat survey found 68 per cent of tablets provided by companies to staff were iPads, Frank Dickson, its vice-president of mobile research, says there is still not the same brand loyalty as in the consumer world. "People are not wedded to a platform or device; they are trying to figure out what they can do with a tablet," he says.
"E-mail is by far the number one thing people want to use an iPad or tablet for, but there are many niche apps that are popular as well, such as IT monitoring, and it's really about how whichever tablet can solve such unique problems."