Lots of promise, lots of competition for enterprise tablets

The tablet market has suddenly become a very crowded space: Huawei unveiled its 7-inch MediaPad yesterday, Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) has begun taking orders for its TouchPad, Research In Motion (s rim) has shipped 500,000 PlayBooks and Panasonic is preparing to come to market with an Android-based Toughbook, to name just a few. All of these devices take aim at Apple’s (s aapl) iPad, which has enjoyed runaway success among consumers and has been embraced by bigwigs in the enterprise, as my colleague Darrell Etherington pointed out last week.

And while end users are primarily driving the market for enterprise tablets today, businesses will increasingly take tablet deployments into their own hands, as a recent survey from Dimensional Research illustrates. The firm found that 22 percent of business and IT executives polled said that they had officially deployed tablets, and 78 percent plan to do so by the end of 2013.

But as I discuss in a new report on enterprise tablets at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), the competition will be fierce, because so many new tablets are coming to market. Apple has created something of a standard with its $500 price point for the least expensive iPad, so competitors who can’t match that price will have to differentiate themselves with other features or functionality. Both consumer and enterprise applications will also play a major role in determining the success or failure of tablets in the enterprise. And security will increasingly be a factor, especially for businesses that allow employees to use their own tablets for work.

Enterprise tablets represent a very promising space, especially in vertical markets such as education, retail and health care. But the market for business tablets is still in its infancy, and it will endure substantial growing pains over the next two to three years. Tablet manufacturers and application developers who understand the needs of businesses and their employees will thrive as the space gets legs. Those who fail to meet those needs will quickly find themselves left behind. For more thoughts on the promising market for enterprise tablets as well as a competitive analysis of major players in the space, please see my new report (subscription required).