SEOUL Apple's iPad, initially viewed as a Web entertainment gadget for consumers, is quickly making inroads across businesses in Asia as wedding planners, luxury hotels and airlines hook up to the tablet computer.
Apple has sold over 2 million iPads since the device made its debut in April in the United States. It had to delay the international sale due to difficulty in meeting demand for the product, which has received high marks for videos and games, reading electronic books and general Web browsing.
"It's strong adoption in Asia means iPad could become another strong source of revenue for Apple and it would be not just Asia as myriads of applications that iPad has would make it possible for enterprises to offer personalized experience to their customers," said Lee Chae-gi, research director at Gartner in Seoul.
Apple now gets almost three-fifths of its revenue outside the U.S., and is counting on its base of fans who already own an iPod, iPhone or Mac to add the iPad to their collection as rivals line up with their own tablets.
In Japan, wedding service firm Novarese Inc is using iPads to help customers choose a wedding dress at its flagship store in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, and plans to adopt iPads at seven other stores and its wedding ceremonial halls.
The firm now shows customers video clips of models strutting with dresses on the iPad, making it easier to see things such as how a hemline flares.
"We once considered showing it to customers on laptops but they are heavy. The iPad perfectly fits our demand," said company spokeswoman Kazuka Nohara. "We also found something unexpected. Grooms are now more proactive in selecting a wedding dress."
InterContinental Hotels is equipping concierges at centres including Hong Kong, London and New York with iPads to provide guests recommendations of restaurants, performances and local destination videos.
"Whether it ultimately becomes a useful tool in a corporate environment will depend on the ability of software developers to adapt business software to the new style of interface," said Tim Renowden, an analyst at technology consultancy Ovum.
In Australia, Jetstar, the budget carrier of Qantas Airways, became one of the first airlines in the world to announce it would offer iPad as part of in-flight entertainment.
It plans to rent an iPad out from A$10 ($8.30), enabling passengers to read e-books, play games and watch some pre-selected movies and television programs on flights.
Despite critics who question whether a true need exists for such a gadget, analysts expect Hewlett-Packard, Dell and potentially Nokia and Sony and others to trot out their own competing devices this year.
Apple has staked its formidable reputation on a 9.7-inch touchscreen tablet with no clear-cut case for use other than pure media consumption. Access to unique content and programs on Apple's universe of more than 150,000 applications has the potential to drive tablet adoption.
Microsoft and Toshiba have launched tablets that failed to take off in recent years.
The iPad is helping foster a market for tablet computers that some analysts have forecast to grow to as many as 50 million units by 2014.
Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said there have already been more than 35 million downloads of applications for the iPad.
In Japan, Otsuka Pharmaceutical said it plans to buy 1,300 iPads for its sales representatives so they can use it to do presentations more visually and with the latest information.
Restaurant Global Mundo Tapas in Sydney has replaced its paper menus with digital versions on the iPad last week. It has 10 iPads and has ordered more, while technology firm MenuPad is offering software which would allow restaurants to put their menus on iPad devices.
Though the iPad has recently hogged the media limelight, the iPhone remains Apple's main growth driver.
On Monday, Apple unveiled a new iPhone that goes on sale in scores of countries this year, preparing its fastest-ever global roll-out to try and stay a step ahead of rivals such as Google Inc in a red-hot smartphone market.
In South Korea, companies such as Doosan Corp and Internet portal operator Daum Communications are subsidizing purchases of iPhones, a move which could spark more competition in the intensifying smartphone market.
Last month, Standard Chartered bankers in Asia told Reuters the London-based lender was giving its corporate Blackberry users the option of switching to the iPhone, replacing RIM's BlackBerry.
Late comers such as Samsung are also targeting business customers as a way to boost its smartphone shipments.
($1=1.209 Australian Dollar)
(Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Sachi Izumi in TOKYO, Michael Smith and Narayanan Somasundaram in SYDNEY; Editing by Anshuman Daga)