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Thursday, October 28, 2010, 07:15 pm PT (10:15 pm ET)

Apple distributor sees increased interest in the iPad among businesses

An executive from Ingram Micro, one of Apple's largest distributors, revealed Thursday that Apple is allowing the firm to pursue enterprise sales of the iPad, as businesses express increasing interest in purchasing the touchscreen tablet.

Ingram Micro CEO Greg Spierkl told Reuters in an interview that Apple in the past has preferred to sell the iPad to retailers, but has recently become more amenable to selling it to businesses as well.

"What it's telling us is that there's a (business to business) opportunity starting to develop for these devices, which is not necessarily where they were targeted initially," said Spierkel, who went on to cite sales representatives in the field as one "significant use" of tablets by businesses.

Apple has increasingly relied on Ingram Micro and other distributors to market its products to businesses, reportedly going so far as to lay off 50 of its enterprise salespeople in March of last year.

In the most recent quarter, Apple sold a record 4.19 million iPads, but Wall Street analysts expressed disappointment over the figure.

During the company's Q4 2010 conference call, Apple CEO Steve Jobs highlighted enterprise sales of the iPad as a growth opportunity for the company.

"We haven't pushed it [the iPad] real hard in business, and it's being grabbed out of our hands," Jobs said.

"We've got a tiger by the tail here, and this is a new model of computing which we've already got tens of millions of people trained on with the iPhone, and that lends itself to lots of different aspects of life, both personal and business," he said.

According to Apple executives, over 65 percent of the Fortune 100 are already deploying or trying the iPad, including Procter & Gamble, Lowes, NBC Universal and Hyatt.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg published a report saying that Apple had contracted with Unisys Corp to sell its products to corporations and government agencies. Unisys will "provide maintenance and other services to companies and government agencies that purchase Apple devices," the report said.

Gene Zapfel, a managing partner at Unisys, said the deal was a first for Apple. “Most of those organizations are still pretty heavily [Windows] PC-based,” Zapfel said. “Apple is going to crack the nut and clients are going to start buying a lot more.”

Wells Fargo and Mercedes-Benz were some of the first companies to try out the iPad for business purposes. A June survey by Citrix found that 80 percent of its business users planned to buy an iPad.