Panasonic gets rugged, aims to triple Toughbook sales in SEA
By Keith Liu August 5, 2015
- Sets up ‘configuration centre’ in Malaysia to address Asean market
- Introduces ‘business rugged’ 2-in-1 Toughbook CF-MX4
PANASONIC may not rank very high as a PC maker, but in the niche market for fully-rugged and semi-rugged computers, the Japanese electronics giant’s Toughbook line of laptops and tablets owns around 65% of the worldwide market share.
This is according to Soh Pheng Kiat (pic above), general manager of the Toughbook Solutions Team at Panasonic System Solutions Asia Pacific.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) during the launch of the company’s Asean configuration centre on July 28, Soh said he is expecting sales of Toughbook products to triple in this region by 2018.
That’s why the company decided to move its product configuration centre to the southern Malaysian state of Johor, from the previous location in the United Kingdom, to speed up order fulfilment and to reduce lead times.
The centre was set up in April. Panasonic took roughly three months for the transition and to get the configuration centre fully operational.
This centre is geared towards customising and configuring almost all the notebooks and tablets procured by its South-East Asian customers.
“The demand for rugged mobile computers – tablets, notebooks and handheld computers – is expected to grow, with strong interest in this region from firms in the defence and retail industries,” Soh said.
This ties in with numbers provided by VDC Research, which forecast the rugged notebook opportunity in South-East Asia to grow to US$48.3 million by 2018 with retail, telecoms and automotive customers leading the demand.
Within the next few years, Panasonic expects its configuration centre to morph into a regional service support centre as well, to handle one-to-one swaps and service repair jobs.
Introduced 20 years ago, Panasonic’s Toughbook computers are now used by the armed forces in a number of countries, as well as automotive and logistics industries across the globe.
“For Asean (the Association of South-East Asian Nations), we are still at our infancy stage,” Soh said, as most of the company’s clients like Volvo, Ikea, Coca-Cola and Airbus were signed up in Europe and the United States.
As such, he is looking to target the large base of car manufacturers in Thailand and Indonesia, as well as oil and gas players in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Soh believes his team is on track to hit the lofty 2018 goal, although he admitted it is starting from a small base currently.
“Panasonic has always been strong in verticals that require rugged computing … but then again, this is such a niche market that there really isn’t that much competition in the space either,” IDC Asia-Pacific analyst for client devices, Avinash Sundaram, told DNA via e-mail.
To that end, Panasonic may have already started moving outside of that niche in this region.
It has begun offering not just heavily ruggedised products that are usually double the thickness of normal notebooks, but also semi-rugged and ‘business rugged’ laptops as well.
These products do not come with the near-indestructible quality of the fully rugged Toughbooks, but they are lot thinner and lighter, yet still able to withstand bumps, drops and knocks without calling it quits.
The CF-54 HD (pic above) for instance, is a 14-inch semi-rugged model that comes with a carry handle and can withstand drops from a height of 76cm.
Inside, the components are protected from shock and vibration with a special absorbent material, so it can be docked in vehicles and used on the road all day.
And while it does look robust, it is surprisingly light at 1.99kg, thanks to the magnesium chassis and a ‘honeycomb’ design that helps to bring down the weight while maintaining the rigidity of the unit.
As expected, the CF-54 HD is highly configurable (supporting a variety of enterprise customer demands), so it can be fitted with a second battery, second LAN (local area network) port, GPS (global positioning system) module, extra USB (universal serial bus) port … and even an archaic serial port.
Powered by an Intel Core i5 vPro processor, the standard model comes with 4GB of RAM (random access memory) and a 500GB hard disk drive.
The screen resolution however, a 1330 x 768 HD (high-definition) panel, is perhaps the only disappointment.
What’s perhaps more intriguing is the introduction of the Toughbook CF-MX4 to this market.
Panasonic calls it ‘business rugged,’ referring to the kind of abuse this type of laptop would be subjected to, such as constant movement and vibration (due to the mobile workforce) or “being squeezed in an underground train in Tokyo during rush hour,” Soh quipped.
This 2-in-1 model is a blocky silver laptop with a 360-degree flexible 12.5-inch screen that can fold all the way around and be used as a tablet.
At 1.14kg, it weighs a lot lighter than it looks and can survive drop tests from a height of 76cm, as well as a 100kgf (kilogram-force) pressurised vibration test – perhaps to mimic the public transport situation mentioned above).
It is also equipped with a stylus that’s nicely tucked away in the side on the chassis.
Like the CF-54 HD, the standard configuration of the MX4 also comes with an Intel Core i5 vPro processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive. But notably, it comes with a much sharper Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS (in-plane switching) display panel.
It clearly addresses the enterprise laptop market rather than the ruggedised segment.
DNA asked Soh if this was Panasonic’s strategy to expand from its niche to become a more broad-based vendor.
“Primarily it was for the Japanese market. In fact, if you look at Japan itself, Panasonic’s rugged products hold about 60%-70% market share. Since it’s there, we are actually bringing it out to the market in Asia and Europe,” he said.
In spite of the laptop’s obvious fit with business travellers, this device is an enterprise-driven play, even as the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend continues to grow.
There are no plans to market this directly to consumers just yet. “It’s not our priority,” Soh said.
The pricing is also reflective of that. The Toughbook CF-MX4 will be available at a starting price of S$3,220 (US$2,340), while prices for the CF-54 start from S$2,680 (US$1,950). All Toughbook products come with a standard three-year warranty.
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