Panasonic Sees Niche For Rugged Android Tablet

Big is the only way to describe this venue

Rance Poehler, president of Panasonic Solutions Company, the operating entity that contains all of Panasonic’s US business units — including Toughbook rugged PCs, video systems for security applications, professional video, professional displays, projectors, and digital signage — doesn’t like to do things in a small way.

For the introductory announcement of Panasonic’s new Android-based Toughpad tablet earlier this week, he rented out Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, where he feted partners, customers, and media for an evening that included, piled high on a table on the turf field itself, stacks of boxes of new Nike sneakers, of which guests could avail themselves in order to attempt a penalty kick against Kevin Hartman, goalie for Football Club Dallas and the US National Soccer Team.

(I pause at this moment to note that I totally nailed my shot, firing a hard rising ball to Hartman’s right that rattled the net satisfyingly about two-thirds of the way up toward the crossbar.  He never had a chance, although he dove valiantly.  Video to follow.)

Enterprise is both the name of this huge aircraft carrier and a description of a class of computer buyer

Last time Poehler did this type of thing, when he introduced the Toughbook 31 and Toughbook 19 rugged notebooks in May 2010, he chose as a venue the USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier docked in New York Harbor.  The Enterprise is so big it could house a small city all by itself.

So, this week’s launch was no exception to the “big” rule.  But one might wonder why such scale for a tiny nascent product category: rugged Android-based tablets for commercial customers.

The answer could be that, with the tablet market poised to grow by 60% in 2012, according to IDC, Poehler wants a piece of one of the fastest growing computer businesses in the recent history.  And despite Panasonic’s modest overall market share in PCs, the company makes a tidy profit based on its dominant position in rugged notebooks, a circumstance that leaves Poehler some leeway in his marketing budget to make big points.

In the two-to-three-year gap between the introduction of Apple’s iPad and the expected release of Microsoft’s Windows 8, enterprises looking for a middle way in tablets have had little to chew on thus far.

Non-iOS tablets have done terribly in the marketplace, and iPads have wandered into organizations large and small one at a time until IT managers have been forced deal with them.

Apple serves primarily consumers, but has a program that lets corporate customers sign their own apps and distribute them to employees.  Nonetheless, many IT managers are still not comfortable with Apple products.  They seek better integration with their existing infrastructures and features like enterprise-class security and device management.

So, there remains a demand among commercial customers for non-Apple tablets, and Microsoft’s Windows interface won’t be optimized for tablet gestures until the next generation.  Thus, it has fallen to Android to fill the gap, and Panasonic has built a serious commercial platform with enterprise features integrated deeply into an Android stack.  This platform can be locked down from a security perspective and managed from an IT perspective, and it will address a real end-user need — particularly in the field.

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