No need to revisit the success of iPad. The millions of units sold since April speaks for itself. While most of these have been purchased at retail, many buyers use their tablets for work, often sponsored or supported by an enlightened IT organization. 2011 will be a big year for iPad in the enterprise.

But what about the countless number of tablets from other manufacturers? These anything-but-iPad (ABi) tablets promise enticing characteristics that Content & Collaboration professionals cherish, things like Flash media support, enterprise app stores, and sometimes greatly enhanced security (as RIM’s Playbook will have) or deep links to the unified communications infrastructure (as Cisco’s Cius will have) or full Microsoft Office support (as HP’s Slate will have).

How will these ABi tablets fare in the enterprise in 2011? Fair to partly cloudy, I fear. Three gating factors will slow enterprise adoption:

  1. Many ABI tablets and particularly those from RIM and Cisco and HP will be sold primarily to companies. So in a world of smartphone and tablet consumerization where employees bring personal devices to work, the leading ABi business tablets are being sold through the enterprise door. This will slow down adoption as IT buyers find the budget and evaluate the alternatives. In contrast, iPad is available to consumers as well as directly to businesses. So IT can at least temporarily sidestep the issues of funding and data plan provisioning while developing a tablet strategy. It’s an easier business case to make in 2011. Of course, other Android tablets are available to consumers and will come in through the employee door.
  2. Tablets are dual use devices, which blunts the potential benefits of an ABi business tablet. Dual use means that employees want to use tablets for entertainment and for personal media and communications as well as for work. So ABi business tablets will have to delight the consumer in each one of us. And that means firms will have to sacrifice the very characteristics that attract them to ABi tablets in the first place: security, application control, and control over the data plan.
  3. Apple has a one-year head start in tablets and accessories and more than that in apps. And in a world of six month product cycles, that’s a lot. There are already a gazillion (fashionista, ruggedized, practical, leather, pleather, wooden, you name it) cases available for iPad, and the list of keyboards and apps for iPad is long. So while Angry Birds and Citrix Receiver may be available on ABi tablets at launch, many other applications will not be. It will take time for ABi tablets to garner the full support of ISVs and carriers. Further, the ABi tablets being announced at this week’s CES are competing with iPad 1.0, even as Apple is preparing iPad 2.0.

All three factors will slow down the adoption of ABi tablets in the enterprise, while iPad's growth is assured. On the other hand, it’s early going in the tablet market, and there will be opportunity for many suppliers. Our updated forecast (available to Forrester customers) is for the US tablet market alone to grow rapidly to reach 82 million tablet owners by 2015. As IT professionals, you are wise to:

  • Pilot the ABi tablet alternatives. There are solid (though smaller) Android tablets already available from Dell and Samsung and some great looking tablets coming from RIM, Cisco, Motorola, and HP starting in the first half of 2011 and accelerating throughout the year. They may have characteristics you need. Check them out.
  • Look for real laptop replacement opportunities. iPad today is really a third device, neither smartphone nor laptop, rather something in between. But a tablet with full Microsoft Office support could allow employees to leave the laptop in the drawer permanently.
  • Look for paper replacement and “new place” tablet opportunities. It’s a big, complex business world out there. Tablets are showing up in operating rooms, construction sites, retail floors, and insurance sales calls. It may be that an ABi tablet is better suited to some of these scenarios.
  • Plan for a multi-platform future. Ultimately, you will have to support smartphones and tablets running different operating systems. So build flexibility into your device security and management platform, application development strategy, carrier selection, reimbursement practices, and dual use or employee-provisioned policies.

What are your expectations? Will ABi tablets succeed in the enterprise in 2011?