Panasonic builds out rugged handheld portfolio and strategy with brand new and enhanced devices

The two new devices, the Toughbook T1 and the L1, with the latter designed for landscape viewing, become Panasonic offerings for lesser demanding rugged environments. The N1, their offering above the new devices in the market, has been enhanced.

The new Panasonic Toughbook L1

Today, at a media event in New York City, Panasonic, which specialized in rugged devices, is making a major series of announcements. They are adding two new devices to their portfolio with the Toughbook T1 and the Toughbook L1. Both of these support the less stressful end of the rugged market like retailing, and the L1 comes with a landscape design that supports both landscape and portrait modes. Panasonic is also announcing enhancements to an existing product, the N1, which sits above the T1 and L1 in the product portfolio, and below the highly rugged X1. In addition to the product, Panasonic is also announcing a OS lifecycle support solution to capture more of the market that is migrating from Windows CE, which is being end-of-lifed in phases through 2020.

“We have had handheld products for many years, and the N1 and X1 have been in market until now, but with this announcement we are extending it so that we now have a full complement of products, from military grade down,” said Brian Rowley, Panasonic’s VP of Marketing and Product Management. “The new models are fully rugged, but when people think ToughBook, they think of bigger devices with bumpers. We have streamlined these to make them slimmer and sleeker. The announcement is also bigger than the products. We have made sure that we have full integrations with printing and other ecosystems, and are working with the right mobile device management vendors so that we can provide a complete ‘one-stop shop’ for a completely integrated mobile handheld strategy. This brings us into the next chapter of the ToughBook story.”

A key part of this strategy is Panasonic’s channel enablement strategy around handhelds. They determined that required the establishment of a separate partner program from the one focused around their rugged notebooks, where they are the market leader.

“The handheld market is completely different, so we created the Edge Program, a separate partner program for our handheld business, in July 2017,” Rowley said. “It now has 92 resellers in it. We have been building out that program, getting the right resellers, and building out our sales team to support it, and now have a full complement of sales teams to support our partners. We have also built out a portfolio of accessories. There are a lot of moving parts we had to put in place for the structure to succeed. For partners, this is not just about the hardware. It’s about what we bring to market with this approach to help them succeed.”

The new hardware is significant though, and all stems from Panasonic’s emphasis that a BYOD strategy simply won’t work in more rugged environments.

“Many jobs aren’t suitable for BYOD, whether they are ones like first responders where devices are more likely to be dropped, or on oil rigs, or even in cars where the device can be exposed to the heat of the sun for hours,” Rowley said. “Temperature, safety and hazard-related issues make these devices necessary.”

Panasonic is focused on five key verticals: manufacturing; transportation/logistics; public safety; federal government; and retail.

The new Panasonic T1

The new Toughbook T1 and the Toughbook L1 are aimed at the least demanding use cases in these, like retail floor environments where they are still more likely to be dropped.

“The T1 is a durable enterprise device, but is very thin, with a 5 inch screen and narrow bezels, which is not what you would expect from a rugged device,” Rowley said. “The L1 is a 7 inch – more of a tablet design – with a configurable barcode reader in landscape or portrait mode. The landscape version comes in handy in environments where the device is mounted on vehicles, like in warehousing with forklift mounting, or which airline baggage handlers.

Both new devices have the same guts – the Android 8.1 Oreo operating system, a QualComm Snapdragon MSM8909AA CPU and the same battery. Both are designed to MIL-STD-810G standards, protecting them from drops of up to seven feet. Both come in two models – one with Wi-Fi connectivity only and another offering voice and data connection on AT&T and Verizon networks, as well as data connectivity through Panasonics’s own P.180 network.

The enhanced 4.7 inch screen N1 is the ‘Better’ on the Panasonic quality ‘Good-Better-Best’ continuum, with the X1 being their top of the line. It also has the Oreo OS, but has a stronger Octa Core processor.

“This is the fastest one that’s on the market,” Rowley said.  “What’s unique and continued is the angled bar code reader, which has received some great feedback from customers because you can see the screen without putting added strain on the  wrists. The N1 also has a warm-swap battery and the same MIL-STD-810G standards. In addition to the same connectivity options as the others, the N1 will be part of the AT&T FirstNet connectivity private network for first responders when it becomes available later this year.

“The N1 has been extremely successful for us in the market,” Rowley said.

The enhanced Panasonic N1

“A critical point on positioning in the rugged space is that without the right software and ISVs to support the applications, you just have another device,” said Dan Diliberti, Head of Mobility Products and Market Strategy at Panasonic. “We have the rapid application development tools and strategy to replace legacy equipment, and have an infrastructure in place to support it. That makes us well positioned to support customers.”

That’s especially important, Diliberti said, given Microsoft’s imminent exist from mobile with the end-of-lifing of Windows CE.

“Customers are looking at different platforms now that Microsoft has been clear about their exit strategy from mobile devices,” he said. “Many ISVs have ported their applications over to Android. But now Google wants to upgrade the OS every year, which is a very different approach than Microsoft took with Windows CE, which was that commercial applications don’t need the latest and greatest user experience. This has been an industry challenge to address, and it makes management especially important in the enterprise. So we have created an OS lifecycle support solution. It will guarantee an upgrade path, security patches on a regular basis, and added services for enterprises, and will differentiate us and our partners from the consumer devices. This is now an official program that we are beginning to talk about publicly. It’s in beta right now, and will go live later this year.”

Diliberti also drew attention to Panasonic’s existing  MCL 360 service offering.

“This is our rapid application development tool, which ports applications from CE to the new Android platform,” he said. “It’s a service that resellers can sell and add more value, and is a tremendous opportunity. This is a proven product, which has been in the market now for over 20 years, but we’ve really only been marketing it for the last year or so.”

The Toughbook N1 has a suggested retail price of $USD 1,899. The Toughbook L1 and Toughbook T1 both have a suggested retail price of $USD 1499.