The iPad signals the start of a new wave of tablets.

Apple, as a computer company, has been focused on the consumer market. It has paid lip-service to trying to tackle the ‘bread and butter’ corporate market, instead relying on niche departments to decide on Macs in order to run specific applications, or for professionals with the budget and freedom of choice to make their own choice to purchase, run and support a Mac.

But Apple is, by its own admission, no longer a computer company. The launch of the iPod in 2001 started the shift, but now Apple derives more than half of its revenue from the sales of the iPod and iPhone. The iPhone has tremendous traction, selling more than 8 million units in the first quarter of 2010, with many going to business users.

Now Apple is tackling a market that has always promised great things, but never really delivered. The new iPad tablet has already seen sales of over two million units in less than two months, and Apple is on course to ship more iPads this year than the entire sales of Windows Tablet PCs since it launched in 2002.

Arguably, the failure of the Tablet PC to reach critical mass lies in the name. It is a PC, with all the drawbacks that entails for extreme mobility. The success of the iPhone demonstrated the potential of devices with limited capabilities but sophisticated and polished interfaces, and this has translated into the apparent early success of the iPad.

Apple is far from alone in sensing the opportunity. HP acquired Palm for its WebOS which it intends to deploy on a range of devices including tablets, while Google is also making moves, with partner Dell launching the Streak Tablet based on the Android platform.

While it is not yet clear what the long-term picture will look like, it is certain that there will be a sizeable market of ultra-portable computing devices that do not run Windows.

Many of these new tablets will be purchased by business users. Much of their use will be an extension of what smart phones are used for today: communications, such as voice, texting and email; web browsing; content consumption, such as music and video; and amusement or productivity through native applications.

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