Panasonic admits that there are limited opportunities for manufacturers in the rugged tablet market, but believes that its latest Windows 8 model could see some enterprises ditch the iPad.
Some enterprises got caught up in iPad "euphoria"
Although better known for plasma and LCD TVs, Panasonic has been something of a stalwart in the tablet market, and has been making rugged slates since 2001.
Some may question what margins can be obtained in such a niche market, but Panasonic believes that it could see a pick-up in demand now that Windows 8 has launched.
“There are not a lot of tough tablets because there’s only limited space in the market that you can and want to play in,” admitted Jon Tucker, Panasonic's European product marketing manager, when meeting TabTimes in London recently.
“Our Toughbook range is more a premium price point than regular models, but over the three, four or five year life cycle the total cost of ownership can be lower because it doesn’t go wrong.”
Tucker admitted that Windows 7 tablets often "left a lot to be desired" when it came down to touch control but maintains that Windows 8 slates, like Panasonic's incoming convertible CF-C2, have the ability to change business perception of Windows tablets.
"The majority [of our clients] want Windows 8 now, because people are much more comfortable with the Windows experience and the new flexibility of the OS and these new convertible devices. In fact, people will probably will more comfortable with this switch than they were when moving from XP to Windows 7.”
Such satisfaction, coupled with some need for ruggedized devices, could even lead to enterprise moving away from Apple's iPad in some cases, according to Tucker.
“When you talk about rugged devices, you pay a premium for the total cost of ownership, so the iPad’s interface, price and battery life was clearly attractive to a lot of people.
“But we think that there was an initial euphoria that kicked off a lot of projects which drove people to tablets, when they wouldn’t necessarily have headed there in the first place. That euphoria has tailed off a bit recently and we’re seeing a lot of people going to Windows 8 for the Apple-like experience but with the Windows manageability and security.”
Panasonic goes after field workers with the CF-C2, hints at new tablet in Q1
Amid all this promotion for Windows 8, it came as no surprise when Tucker introduced the Toughbook CF-C2, a convertible tablet aimed at field engineers and healthcare workers which runs Windows 8 Pro.
The device can be used as a laptop or tablet and is not short when it comes to business-friendly hardware specs, coming with a 500GB hard drive, 256GB solid state drive (SSD) and options (3-cell, 6-cell or 9-cell batteries) for up to 15 hours of battery life.
The tablet has an IPS display with strengthened glass, wide viewing angles and high brightness (500cd/m2) for outside use, while Panasonic claims that the model can withstand a 76cm drop (the height of most tables) from six different angles.
There is also a degree of water resistance, with security coming in the form of Absolute Software's Computrace, plus ports for SmartCard readers.
Given the tablet's starting price of $2,959 (it enters production in December) and that Panasonic generally sells "tens of thousands" of devices to businesses directly, Tucker knows that the CF-C2 is unlikely to grab the headlines, but believes that both it and the company itself could be benefitting from the rise of tablets and the consumerization trend.
Indeed, “all the time”, was Tucker’s response when TabTimes quizzed him on if the iPad had helped to increase awareness for Panasonic’s tablet products. “Going back 15 years ago people really had to go out and find tough computers but these days they are experiencing new devices and failure rates all the time.
“Some people are unknown to the Toughbook brand and they first [when looking to utilize mobile devices] realize they need to mobilize their apps. But their next port of call, is [to buy] a tougher tablet”.
And in a further nod to the design of Windows 8 and the improvements Panasonic has made with rugged tablets over the years, Tucker is adamant that devices like the CF-C2 won’t be wiped from memory by consumer tablets being introduced on a bring-your-own (BYO) basis.
“The expectation with BYOD is that workers want to use smart devices in the workplace and don’t want to go back to something clunky, but this just looks like a regular laptop” said Tucker, who went onto detail the CF-C2’s design.
And so with this tablet, plus another Panasonic model (also running Windows 8) expected to hit the market in Q1, you can be sure Panasonic will keep evolving its Toughbook and Toughpad brands to address what it sees as a growing market for rugged devices.