While the Apple iPad has sold briskly and gained enterprise support in many places, there are lots of companies and IT leaders waiting for iPad competitors to show up before they take the leap on a corporate experiment with touchscreen tablets.

Since CES 2010 in January we’ve heard a steady stream of announcements, rumors, and buzz about upcoming tablets, but most of this has been bluster. None of the major PC vendors have released a product to compete with the iPad.

However, we’ve gotten new information this week on three tablet competitors that are borrowing the “pad” name (which tells us plenty about their strategy). These three pads all have near-final product names, which makes them at least appear a little closer to reality.

ASUS Eee Pad

ASUS confirmed to Netbook News this week that it has decided to change horses for the tablet race. The Taiwanese computer maker is jumping off Windows Embedded Compact 7 and building its Eee Pad tablet with Android instead. ASUS will use Android 3.0 (code name: Gingerbread), which will be released this fall. For the Eee Pad itself to arrive, we’ll likely have to wait until CES 2011 in January.

Since ASUS was the company that popularized the netbook revolution with its Eee PC, has some Linux software experience with its Express Gate mini distro, and recently broke into the top five PC sellers worldwide, it is clearly an important player to watch in the tablet race.

HP Palmpad

Hewlett-Packard has filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office to trademark the term Palmpad in relation to “handheld and mobile computers, PDAs, electronic notepads, mobile digital electronic devices.” So Palmpad appears to be the name of HP’s tablet/slate/pad expected to arrive before the end of the year, though HP has yet to officially confirm the name.

This is the latest development in HP’s off-beat 2010 tablet saga. It started in January when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off an HP device at the opening keynote at CES as part of the announcement of “slate PC” devices running Windows 7. Then HP bought Palm in April, reportedly killed its Windows 7-based slate PC because Windows was too power-hungry, and confirmed that it plans to use Palm’s webOS to power its iPad competitor.

Lenovo LePad

Lenovo’s U1 Hybrid (below) was one of the most talked about products at CES 2010. It was a full Windows laptop, but it had a separate LCD that popped out and turned into a touchscreen tablet with its own Linux-based UI. At the time, I wondered why Lenovo just didn’t market the Linux tablet as a separate product.

According to recent comments by a Lenovo executive, the company plans to release an Android-based tablet called the LePad in China at the end of 2010. This strategy falls in line with Lenovo’s Android-based LePhone, which launched in China earlier this year. Based on statements from the company, Lenovo is expected to bring both products to other regions if they are successful in China.

Keep in mind that the product photo below is of the U1 Hybrid and not the LePad, but since Lenovo has already created this tablet-like device it’s reasonable to assume that it could borrow from some of the design elements.

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