The Role of Tablets in the Enterprise
Tablets may one day soon take their place alongside PCs and smartphones as standard-issue IT equipment.
Apple owns about 75 percent of the tablet market and, given that market share numbers typically are shipped numbers and that inventory has been building for competing products into the fourth quarter, this market share is likely conservative. A lot of companies have tried to be a better iPad than iPad, with Samsung's Galaxy Tab coming the closest. As a result, it lost Apple as a customer for Samsung parts and the product got locked out of several markets by Apple. In the end, there is little pride associated with being just a good copy of someone else's product.
Panasonic is one of the few vendors that is breaking out of this Apple clone-fest and focusing on the professional market. This week, it announced its Toughpad, addressing directly the shortcomings (and concerns) IT buyers have with the Android alternatives and creating something that better targets their unique needs.
Let's explore this alternative path given that I spent last night at an amazing product launch at the Dallas Cowboy's Stadium.
The problem with chasing Apple is that it has effectively been using its substantial war chest to buy up massive supplies of core tablet parts and to market the product to a degree that the iPad has become the Kleenex of tablets. In short, it has effectively turned the iPad market into an iPod market.
However, the iPad was built to consumer specifications with attention to product cost to hit consumer price points and related sacrifices were made, in order to contain that cost, to the product's reliability and durability - things that are much more important to an industrial user. As a result, when it created and drove a massive interest in tablets, it created a parallel market of business buyers who need to satisfy the employee's need for a portable device but also assure the device is adequately secure and usable. Apple's approach to security, which seems to be based on covering up problems, still scares me half to death.
In short, because, like most consumer devices, the iPad is relatively fragile and favors appearance over durability, Apple created a market for products that made other choices and these choices are what created the foundation for the Toughpad.
The Toughpad won't show up until next year and it will come in two forms - a 7-inch and a 10-inch. Like other Toughbook-class products, this is a military specification offering and that means it won't win any beauty contests with heavy protection for corners and the screen. Part of Panasonic's process is to test its products (see video) against water, sand, drops to hard surfaces and extreme temperature changes to make sure that they will survive on the job in Alaska or Iraq. Panasonic builds for the military, in this case MIL-STD-810G. As dominant (about 75 percent market share) as Apple is in consumer devices, Panasonic is in this class of hardened personal computers.
This is an Android product, a platform that many CIOs hold (thanks to side-loading) as unacceptably risky when compared against the more-controlled iOS platform. Panasonic has locked its version down and you won't be playing "Angry Birds" on this product unless IT wants to approve it. To address Panasonic's market, this product had to meet both FIPS 140-2 and HIPAA security requirements given the company sells into government/military and health care. To get there, this device is locked into the Panasonic Business AppPortal, which contains only vetted and approved business applications.
Four other things differentiate the 10-inch version of this product (full details of the 7-inch product aren't yet known) from virtually all consumer tablets. It has a 500 nit anti-glare screen, which is outdoor-viewable. Its multitouch screen is also a digitizer, which means it works with a stylus for signatures and forms. It also has a serviceable battery (given these are expected to be used for full-duty shifts and not just for play) and a three-year warranty, which is at least a year longer than a typical consumer tablet's expected service life. Panasonic products are often expected to last 5 years or more in industrial use.
In short, this is the tablet you use if your life, or someone else's, depends on it and, like most Panasonic products, it isn't cheap. But when lives are on the line, it's worth it.
The iPad will likely remain the consumer favorite tablet through next year even though Apple is facing some impressive competition this quarter by products like the new 5-core Asus Transformer. However, for business, only two products are well targeted: the ThinkPad Tablet and the Panasonic Toughpad. Both of these products focus on different user profiles, with the ThinkPad Tablet more of an executive product, and the Toughpad more of a field tool thanks to its outdoor-viewable screen.
I'm a huge fan of outdoor-viewable screens because having something this light and portable is perfect for an outdoor product. It's kind of a shame that no one makes a Toughpad for consumers yet. Still, if you are buying a tablet for business, it's best to start with one that is designed for business to assure it is secure and reliable enough. Consumer products are nice, but they are hard to defend if there are better alternatives and if they have let your folks in the field down.