Panasonic has launched its first rugged Windows 8 tablet, joining an existing Android-based design, hoping to capture at least half of what the company is convinced will be a million-unit market by the end of 2015.
The latest 10in Toughpad is a continuation of a rugged line of computers introduced in the mid-1990s as Panasonic moved from being an OEM supplier to companies such as Nixdorf and Tandy to selling its own-brand products.
Hiroaki Sakamoto, director of computer product solutions at Panasonic, said the rugged line is more important as a differentiator than ever: “Most non-brand manufacturers can develop high-quality products. Quality is not the differentiation now. Our differentiation is to develop high-quality products for the tough environment.”
For the FZ-G1 tablet, Panasonic decided against using an ARM-based design and opted for an Intel Ivy Bridge i5 CPU. “This will out-perform any ARM processor on the market,” insisted Jan Kaempfer, head of marketing for Panasonic computer product solutions. “This is possible with Ivy Bridge. It gives you all the advantages of using an i5 in a pad.”
Panasonic decided to build in a user-replaceable 45 watt-hour battery, slightly higher in capacity than the 42.5 watt-hour unit to which Apple upgraded the iPad 3.
Kaempfer said the battery takes up about half of the area covered by the tablet. “The other half [of the area] is the PCB. It’s the smallest PCB we have ever produced. That’s why we were able to incorporate that high-performance CPU but still give you the eight hours you need for a working day," said Kaempfer. An additional battery unit that attaches the unit to the back extends this to a claimed 17 hours.
Panasonic's Sakamoto said the company expects the rugged tablet market to grow to a million units by the end of 2015, and that the company aims to capture half of that. He added that demand for products with displays that offer high outdoor brightness and have better environmental protection than consumer designs – the tablets are sealed and the Windows design has a waterproof fan – would drive the market.
Compatibility with existing software and management systems would help sales of Windows 8 tablets, Kaempfer said: “Windows 8 is easier to deploy, but some customers say they have new business areas and that they can go instead for Android. It’s not black and white.”
Kaempfer says Panasonic has no plans to implement support for Windows 8 RT on its ARM processor-based tablets, which currently support Android. “We perceive RT as more or less a consumer stack. It’s really a light, stripped-down version,” Kaempfer explained, pointing to its lack of support for the corporate deployment features found in the x86-based Windows 8 Pro and that applications need to be ported specifically to the Metro environment that runs under RT. “That’s another stumbling block.”