Apple has always seemed like a consumer-first company, and that's because up until recently it has been. But over the past few years Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has quietly been chipping away at the enterprise market, and by next year it could hold as much as 11% of it.

That 11% figure comes from data by Forrester Research that The Wall Street Journal wrote about last week. It's not all that surprising that Apple could take that much of the enterprise market, but what's interesting is how quickly it's progressing in businesses and how it will continue to grow.


Source: Apple. 

Although much of the enterprise switching comes from companies and governments trading in their BlackBerry devices for iPhones, Apple's move into enterprise is happening with its tablets and computers.

The company's enterprise growth has shot up from just 1% of the market in 2009 to 8% of all business and enterprise spending for computers and tablets in 2012, according to WSJ. As they noted, that number doesn't include Apple's iPhone. 

That growth has been fueled by MacBook and iPad sales in the enterprise sector, and will likely be lead by more tablet growth in the near future. A research survey released last month by Toni Sacconaghi of Bernstein Research showed that "Apple and Samsung have meaningful opportunities to gain share of enterprise budgets in smartphones and tablets, likely as many enterprises look to move off the Blackberry platform."

Not only is Apple poised to gain more enterprise tablet market share, but Forrester says the company already has the largest share in the business sector right now. Businesses are expected to make up 18% of all tablet purchases by 2017, and with Apple's lead in business tablet purchases the company is well-positioned to benefit from the growth. 

iPad Air. Source: Apple.

The iPad Pro opportunity 
Which leads us into Apple's next advantage in the space -- an iPad Pro. I've been pretty bullish on Apple releasing a Pro version of its tablet later this year, and such a device could be an even bigger tipping point for Apple's enterprise market share. The iPad's recent upgrade to 64-bit architecture and rumors of the company developing a 12.9-inch tablet are hints that a more capable device may be on the horizon.

But the main argument for an iPad Pro comes as PC sales are continually slowing. At some point many users will accept that a tablet can be just as capable as a computer, something Microsoft and others have failed to convince the market of. Samsung knows this, which is why it just announced pro versions of its Note and Galaxy Tab devices.

For businesses on the fence about replacing computers with tablets, a more powerful and larger iPad could help push them further in the tablet direction. While the enterprise sector is clearly fond of integrating the iPad into its businesses, an iPad Pro would diversify Apple's product line in a way similar to that in which the company did with its MacBook Pro and Mac Pro devices -- clarifying its purpose for businesses.

But whether or not you think an iPad Pro is on the way or not, Apple is already moving further into the enterprise space, and it's showing no signs of letting up. This year and next could prove to be a very important time for tech companies, as more businesses adopt tablets into their work systems and companies like Samsung, Microsoft and Apple fight for mobile relevance in the enterprise space. Though Apple still has a long way to go, it's clear the company's devices are no longer seen as just consumer-grade by many businesses -- and that leaves Apple's growth opportunities wide open. 

2014 just started, and we've got 1 stock to rule the year
There's a huge difference between a good stock, and a stock that can make you rich. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for 2014, and it's one of those stocks that could make you rich. You can find out which stock it is in the special free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.

Fool contributor Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.