It is very clear why Apple's iPad is the most successful device in the lucrative new tablet category: Cupertino simply does the best job of any vendor in terms of providing an end-to-end solution.
In contrast, most Android-based products are incomplete at best, as they are typically hampered by incomplete back-end services tossed by Google to hapless vendors.
The Panasonic Toughpad- which is designed for industrial use - comes closer than most consumer based products, other than Apple, to an end-to-end solution.
Much like what Amazon is doing with the Kindle Fire, the Toughpad back- end will be fully executed with its own dedicated, and finished, set of services.
However the Toughpad maintains several distinct advantages over the iPad. It boasts an outdoor viewable screen, a digitizer, a replacable battery and is hardened for outside use - pointing the way to a better consumer product.
In other words, taking the Toughpad on vacation, say to the beach or on a hike in the woods, won't put the device on a fast-track for replacement. Remember, most consumer tablets, including the iPad, simply weren’t designed for the outdoors.
Yet, a tablet really should be capable of safely leaving the confines of a home or office, because, hell, if I'm inside, my notebook works just fine most of the time. Outside? Well, that is precisely where I really need a solution other than my smartphone to enjoy the web and multimedia content.
Essentially, while the Panasonic Toughpad is targeted at businesses, I think it likely points the way to a future iPad that is ideal for multiple environments and scenarios.
The Future of the Tablet
In the initial days of the business PC, business concepts eventually trickled down to consumer products. For example, the upgradability of the IBM PC crossed over into generic consumer products - wiping out the initial solid state Atari and Commodore product lines which were less flexible.
Laptops started out as business-oriented devices, yet corporate machines are now eclipsed by consumer lines. Similarly, the tablet was initially conceived and envisioned as a "business-only" offering. Of course, Cupertino successfully shifted the tablet concept to consumers, but the initial offering, like most products targeted at new users, mirrored Apple laptops and iPhone. Meaning, the iPad favored looks and price point over durability and range of use.
Clearly, this strategy was the right one, but as the product matures, new technology that can be found in the Toughpad will become more affordable and attractive, perhaps eventually making its way into Apple's iPad and other mainstream tablets.
Remember, people have no problem giving tablets to kids and butterfingered adults. As such, it is logical to assume that tablet manufacturers will adopt Toughpad-like hardened features in future devices. For example, imagine being able to use a tablet outside or not having your heart stop if you or your child drops one - wondering in that fraction of a second if your iPad will suddenly become iParts.
Also, think about being able to replace the battery and passing the tablet on to a younger generation of users, rather than just discarding it when the battery wears out. And wouldn't it be nice if you could enjoy the tablet outside in the summer or winter sun? Or how about not having to wonder if that rainstorm you just got caught in will turn your new tablet into static table art?
I expect by mid-decade the industry will have a much tighter focus on building more reliable products and outdoor-friendly products, so students, businesses and consumers can enjoy both the great outdoors and their tablets at the same time.
Wrapping Up: Wishful Thinking?
Industry adoption of a new concept is often prompted by a single vendor proving that it can be done. With the Toughpad, Panasonic has created a product that is likely a better tablet than the iPad - but it is targeted at the professional market, rather than the average consumer.
At some point in the future, a vendor like Apple will include the same Touchpad features in a consumer device. We'll then be so much closer to my idea of a perfect tablet - one that is as polished as the iPad and can be enjoyed outdoors. But for now, I can only dream.