NEW YORK: Increasing numbers of companies and influential consumers are taking to Apple's iPad, a trend that is set to gain further impetus going forward.

According to a report by research firm Forrester, the popularity of the iPad, which sold 3.27m units in the last quarter, has resulted in "tablet mania" among shoppers and businesses alike.

Microsoft is one organisation currently developing rival appliances, employing its Windows 7 software, in a bid to compete with Apple's latest offering.

HP has engaged in a similar enterprise, while Dell's Streak and Toshiba's Smart Pad might soon be joined by alternatives from Acer and Samsung, as well as Lenovo's LePad.

"The success of the Apple iPad has created a halo around tablets in general: consumers are interested in these devices, even if they're confused about what they actually are," said Sarah Rotman Epps, author of the study.

A Forrester survey of over 4,000 adults in May revealed 83% of contributors had heard of the iPad, rising to 95% in June.

By way of comparison, a total of 25% did not know what the Kindle, Amazon's ebook reader, was, despite the fact it launched three years ago.

"The iPad has become a major consumer electronics product category – unto itself – within one single quarter," said Epps.

Although only 1.3% of people interviewed by Forrester owned an iPad, some 3.8% intended to do so, and this audience is attractive for marketers.

Participants that had splashed out on this gadget were 40% more likely to use Twitter than the norm, a figure standing at 20% concerning Facebook.

They also boasted a greater amount of friends and followers on these portals than the average member, indicating their potential as brand advocates.

"US online consumers who own or intend to buy iPads and other tablets fit a typical early-adopter profile," Epps argued.

"They own multiple PCs and connected devices; they're voracious media consumers; and they have an affinity for other Apple products but aren't exclusively 'Apple-ites.'"

The appeal of the iPad appears to extend beyond individuals, with Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, suggesting most leading corporations are conducting trials of the device.

"Very surprisingly ... during the first 90 days we already have 50% of the Fortune [100] that are deploying or testing the iPad. This is incredible," he said on a conference call in July.

To date, just 500 of the more than 10,000 apps available on the iPad are primarily aimed at companies.

Of these tools, the Citrix Receiver, which allows executives to safely access important documents on the move, has been downloaded 145,000 times since April 2010.

The financial arm of Mercedes-Benz introduced iPads to 40 of its dealerships, using its MB Advantage app to provide information about discounts and tools to apply for credit.

"We wanted to bring the mobile revolution into the dealership," Andreas Hinrichs, its vp, marketing, said.

"The iPad is consumer centric but there is a business side to it as well."

Kaiser Permanente, the healthcare giant, has also experimented by viewing X-rays and scans via the iPad.

"Apple didn't design this for the healthcare industry," said Sean Chai, the senior IT manager at Kaiser Permanente. "But it's a tremendous form factor."

Data sourced from CNET/Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff