Panasonic believes that its ruggedized Android tablet, the 10-inch Toughpad A1, could appeal to companies that see the iPad as too flimsy for outdoor and field usage.
Despite the iPad's roaring sales success, using it in enterprise environments is problematic for a couple of reasons: Not only does iOS lack enterprise level security, the iPad also isn't designed to withstand the wear-and-day of daily use in the field, according to Thomas O'Connor, senior national business development manager at Panasonic Solutions Company, Orange, Calif.
"Enterprise environments are tough on devices. People drop them, and they use them out in the elements," O'Connor said in an interview Wednesday on the CES show.
Panasonic's A1 Toughpad has a screen that's viewable in direct sunlight, and a construction that allows it to be used in temperatures ranging from minus-30 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It's also virtually dustproof, as all of the screws on the rear casing of the device are gasketed, O'Connor said. Support for Bluetooth, 3G, 4G LTE is also part of the package.
"You could take [the A1] out on a tractor in the winter in Montana, and in a squad car in Nevada in the summer," he said. "All of the things that preclude iPad being used out in the field, in direct sunlight, are fixed with this Toughpad.
Panasonic is also including enterprise grade security in the form of a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip, which provides hardware-based security for data in e-mails and on the hard drive, and prevents users from downloading unauthorized applications. TPM chips have begun appearing in ultrabooks, too, as a way to ease IT departments' fears about corporate assets falling into the wrong hands.
Coca Cola, UPS, FedEx, and other large enterprises have expressed interest in the Toughpad A1, said O'Connor. "Anyone that's driving a truck and gets people to sign things is going to want this," he said. Other potential uses include warehousing operations for supply chain logistics, and retail food services.
Like all of Panasonic's enterprise products, the A1, and its forthcoming 7-inch cousin, the B1, will be sold through distribution and resellers. "You're probably going to see it at either vertical specific resellers that specialize in supply chain logistics and distribution, because part of the value is going to be marrying the underlying application with the tablet itself," he said.
Panasonic is planning to launch an enterprise application store and is "actively recruiting" developers to build enterprise class apps for the device, O'Connor said.
The Toughpad A1 is Panasonic's first Android product, but it's not another me-too tablet. O'Connor said it could replace Panasonic Toughbooks in scenarios where they're being used primarily in convertible mode
The A1 will be generally available in April and is priced at $1,299. Panasonic is planning to release the Toughpad B1 later this year but has yet to reveal pricing.