This was supposed to be the year of the tablet device in the enterprise. And it is — except that, somewhat unexpectedly, the tablet of choice, in a landslide, is the iPad.

According to new research from Microsoft Exchange hosting provider Intermedia, which manages 320,000 premium hosted Exchange e-mail accounts, enterprises generally prefer the iPhone and overwhelmingly the iPad. That conclusion is based on the number of ActiveSync-based smartphones that Intermedia’s customers activated. The company indicated that the iPad now holds 99.8% of the business tablet market — despite the fact that a slew of competing devices have come to market, such as the Motorola Xoom and the BlackBerry PlayBook.

In March and April, Intermedia saw 900 and 1,200 new iPad activations respectively. The company saw 300 activations a month before that.

The popularity of the iPad was supposed to open up opportunities for other tablets. Instead, it appears that the iPad is leaving the competition in the dust, and in the process. Indeed, research firms Goldman Sachs and Jefferies & Co. both lowered expectations for the tablet market because of slow demand for Google's Android-based tablets.

"We now believe 70 million to be more realistic due to: 1) Android 3.0 Honeycomb needing polishing, and 2) Android tablets that are priced too high," Jeffries analyst Peter Misek wrote in a research note.

Misek believes that Motorola, Samsung and other tablet vendors will have to drop their prices to become competitive with the iPad.

Prior to Misek's report, Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope lowered his forecasts for the tablet industry and raised Apple's estimated share.

“We have raised our forecast for Apple's tablet market share to 66.4% in 2011 (64% prior) and 66.6% in 2012 (65% prior). Overall, we are expecting 57.7 million total tablets for 2011 and 78.0 million tablets for 2012, versus 60.1 million and 80.3 million previously,” Shope wrote.

What does this say about tablets in the enterprise? One conclusion that can be drawn is that Google’s tablet OS, code-named Honeycomb, is still a bit raw, while the iPad — and now the iPad 2 — has a proven track record. Another is that, while tablet adoption is proliferating — though at a slower-than-expected rate — the majority of companies that have them still are working out what their role will be on a widespread basis.

What the market really needs is a good ruggedized tablet device that is based on a mainstream OS, like Android, that will give the iPad a run for its money. It also needs device makers to stop worrying about how their tablets stack up to the iPad. Instead, they should be looking for enterprise segments where the iPad isn’t suitable, such as rugged field conditions.

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