Most of the tablets we talk about coming to market, from the recently announced HP TouchPad to the Motorola Xoom, appear to be different variations of the iPad theme. And, because Apple sets that bar, they generally fall short.
At this point I really don’t think anyone can build a better iPad. But someone could build a better something else and focus it on a niche that Apple doesn’t excel in.Apple sucks at the government, education, healthcare, corporate, and military markets.
Interestingly enough, Panasonic, which actually started as a consumer company, is with PCs more focused on the government, military, healthcare, and hardened corporate markets — where Apple is weakest.Their tablet is far from a me-too and very well differentiated.
I’m increasingly convinced that the way to flourish in any market defined by a single vendor is to either partner with that vendor or go places they aren’t. Panasonic is doing the latter. Let’s look at their product.
The Panasonic BizPad
Right at the beginning, the name, unlike names like PlayBook, means business and indicates the offering’s target market.You aren’t buying this so that you or your employees can watch movies, enjoy music, or play games.It uses Windows CE, which has no app store full of distracting applications, games, third party movie sites, or cute social networking applications.You don’t give this to an employee who needs more play time; that employee can buy their own iPad. You give it to folks who you want focused on work.
To make up for this, the product is designed to be all-weather. The display is designed to be usable outside, it is military specification drop-tested. It uses a 6.5-inch screen so it can be pocketed or more easily vehicle mounted.It weighs less than half what the new iPad weighs. Malware that will run on the iPad or any Android tablet will not run on this device.It has an expansion slot for an SD card to both add to storage and to receive media. It also has built-in 3G support to conserve battery life.
It is thick, which improves structural rigidity and makes it nearly unbreakable, and it comes with a hand-strap so you can easily keep it in your hand and work with it while moving.It has eight hours of real battery life in production because that’s a typical work shift.
While this product will hardly keep Steve Jobs awake, I think Panasonic is on a better path than most. The company is exploring where the iPad isn’t, rather than where it is.
The Apple Example
Let’s look at the iPad itself, which moves against Windows. For the last decade Apple has outspent and out-executed every other PC maker in marketing, hardware design, and ease of use.
Microsoft even stumbled with Windows Vista and every bit of share that Apple gained, it then apparently gave up when Microsoft brought out Windows 7.But currently the iPad is at a higher run rate than all of the traditional PC products are because folks see it as different and value that difference.
While it still is too early to say whether there really is a sustainable tablet market rather than an iPad fad — because no other tablet is doing that well — you can’t deny that going the most successful strategy was going where Microsoft wasn’t.
BizPad vs. iPad: Wrapping Up
The Panasonic BizPad won’t go head to head with the iPad. Where the iPad excels the BizPad won’t be competitive, but where the BizPad excels the iPad generally won’t be seriously considered.
This give Panasonic a chance to define a space they can defend rather than trying to horn in on a space that Apple has painstakingly created and defined.In a market of me-too products the BizPad stands out, not as the volume leader, but as something that reflects Panasonic — not something that copies Apple.I think that is not only the better path, but the more honorable one.