Panasonic has rolled out three new rugged devices for field-service workers who already live digital lifestyles and for organizations that would benefit from equipping workers with modern mobile endpoints as the front end of their business-transformation efforts.
The company’s new Toughbook devices, launched at an event in New York, consist of two handhelds and one 7-inch tablet, and are all based on the latest version of Android Oreo (8.1), and powered by the most current Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.
Officials at Wednesday night's launch said this represents a turning point for the company’s Toughbook business. Panasonic, whose Toughbooks are only sold through channel partners, is signaling that the more modern capabilities and form factors underscore the growing use cases the company believes it can address.
“In a few years from now, I believe the rugged handheld space will be unrecognizable from what it is today,” said Dan Diliberti, Panasonic’s head of mobility products and market strategy, speaking at the event. “The market is moving so quickly; the demand for what users want is so different and moving so quickly."
Rugged systems that are designed for field workers in a variety of capacities, ranging from public safety, utilities repairs, retail, logistics and manufacturing, are designed to withstand extreme temperatures, exposure to water and are frequently dropped.
Given their intended use, they’re nondescript, though have helped bring information to fleets. As companies move to more modern applications to accelerate their workflows and business processes, Panasonic sees a ripe opportunity to upgrade those fleets with devices that are more appealing to use and can run the new apps.
“It’s a much more, friendly looking design,” said Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst with Technalysis. “It’s almost consumer-friendly. They’re not for consumers, but with this design, people would be more than happy to carry [them] around. They don’t look like industrial-only pieces of equipment like a lot of other rugged devices often look.”
Organizations can use any combination of the three systems, depending on their requirements, and manage their updates and patches together. Among the two handhelds, the Toughbook N1 is a refresh of the 4.7-inch unit, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.2GHz x4 + 1.8GHz x4 Octa Core processor.
It has increased storage and RAM, 32 GB and 3GB respectively, an improved scanner that is now angled, and supports connectivity with the forthcoming FirstNet network for first responders, set to go live later this year. Panasonic also increased the drop spec from 6-foot to MIL-STD-810G with a 7-foot drop spec. The company also said its IP66 dust and water-resistant design, and its IP68 seal can withstand a depth of five feet of water for up to 30 minutes.
The new devices have the same hardware and OS specs. The Toughbook T1 is a new 5-inch handheld with a thinner form-factor and a more cosmetically appealing design. It’s also lighter than the N1, targeted at workers in retail, warehouses and for transportation and logistics employees. It has the same MIL specs as the N1 and has a battery that can be swapped while in use. It’s available in Wi-Fi-only configurations or with support for data service on Verizon, AT&T and Panasonic’s new P. 180 dedicated network.
Panasonic’s new 7-inch tablet, the L1, has an integrated barcode reader that the company said meets MIL-STD-810G standards and is rated IP65/67. It also has a swappable battery and is available with the same connectivity options.
Denis Petrov, CEO of IDSCan.net, a New Orleans ISV and mobile-systems reseller, just added Panasonic to its line of offerings last year and expects to offer all the new devices.
“Panasonic offers a very flexible and powerful platform for developers like us to customize and deliver quality solutions for customers,” said Petrov, during an interview at the launch event.
Petrov said the new tablet will especially appeal to shops looking to migrate aging Windows CE-based systems.
“It’s also a good alternative to businesses [that] don’t use iPads,” he said.