Tablets have been so far a customer phenomenon, but that is changing thanks to Apple's iPad, the consumerization of information technology, and the imminent arrival of Microsoft's Windows 8.

The future looks bright for tablets. Market researchers have forecast tablet shipments to grow to 780 million units by 2016, meaning that there will be a tablet for roughly one in ten people across the world. In some cases they have aready replaced the laptop computer.

Every industry from health and education to construction and aviation has deployed tablets in recent times, and for London-based Context analyst Salman Chaudhry this trend has been anything but surprising.

"Tablets are still a consumer category, but are continuing to be adopted in the business world in growing numbers," said Chaudhry.

"Apple continues to dominate this arena, largely off the back of strong engagement with corporate resellers and a strong marketing campaign focusing on the potential business uses of the iPad."

Two ways have emerged for businesses looking to bring their tablets into the workplace: either the company buys the tablets and gives them to employees, or there are bring-your-own-device (BYOD) arrangements.

Since the turn of the year the BYOD trend has been one of the biggest for technology in business, with companies and employees alike keen on a concept which allows workers to use their smartphones and tablets on the corporate network.

In many regards, such programs have been successful. A recent study from mobile expense management provider Xigo reveals that three in four businesses have adopted some sort of BYOD program, seen by many as an affordable way to keep workers happy while utilizing the latest technology.

However, not everyone has been convinced. Some IT industry analysts have expressed doubts over who pays for data charges or damages, and there is also a grey area regarding whether businesses should be allowed to remotely wipe data off employee-owned devices, in the event that they are lost, to protect confidential corporate content.

The alternative is for businesses to purchase these tablets themselves, and let their IT departments control how they are used. That's a growing trend, too.

Deployments have been pretty huge in this regard, ranging from a handful of tablets going to small-and-medium sized businesses and schools to as many as 500,000 iPads being deployed by large pharmaceutical companies for their sales force.

"We have seen tablets over the past year creep in first as BYOD and then move to being deployed by IT departments", said Carolina Milanesi, Research VP for Consumer Technologies at Gartner in San Jose, California.

"We see tablets in education, health and financial services and retail and hospitality in particular. We also see tablets more across the board in sales and marketing roles.

"Although today they are mainly companion devices, some users are spending more time on them than on their notebooks, particularly when travelling. The big expectations with Windows 8 is that the ability to run the same apps on the tablet that you do on a notebook will lead more enterprises to see tablets as replacement devices."

The Redmond firm is due to launch its Windows 8 operating system, the first to run across desktops, laptops and tablets, alongside its own-brand of Surface tablets, on October 26.

Context's Chaudhry reckons Surface devices could be a pivotal factor for the business adoption of tablets.

"Tablet penetration is expected to be even larger as the Windows' Surface Tablets come to market at the end of October, with the corporate space clearly in Microsoft's sights. And whereas Apple's success came from prosumer demand and a BYOD culture, Microsoft's success will be reliant on good engagement" with chief information officers responsible for buying decisions.

Windows 8 tablets certainly have the potential to be big in business. Office tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint have to date been absent from Apple's iPad, but will be present on both ARM and Intel-powered Windows 8 tablets. Backwards compatibility will also not be a problem, and will let the tablets tap into the approximately 750 million Windows PCs in use around the globe.

Aside from Microsoft, there will be other tablet vendors adding to the market over the next twelve months.

Google entered the space with its own 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet last month, while Amazon is reportedly preparing as many as six new tablets. Even Apple is rumored to be introducing a smaller iPad, at a price of $299. All of this will make for even more choice for businesses.

Add into this mix the increasing availability of enterprise-grade apps available through Apple and Google, and it is clear that tablets have got more than a reasonable future in the business environment.

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes in London