The successful counter to Apple's iPad and its dominance of the tablet market may well be coming from somewhere nobody thought of - Panasonic.
The vendor is starting to tentively show off its first tablet product. Though journalists were not able to take photos at the media event hosted by Panasonic in its hometown of Osaka, it's looking promising. The Toughbook tablet is to be based on the Android operating system, and will be a fully-rugged device designed specifically for those verticals that care about security.
Which is many of them, from government through to utilities and retail. Panasonic is promising that its tablet will resolve the great Android security question, and will pitch it to its existing customer base, which, as the #1 vendor of ruggedised notebooks, includes significant customers such as McDonalds and Telstra.
Critically, in doing that it is pitching an idea and a promise that none of the other Android players have been able to do so far: that is, Panasonic is pitching that we are doing something different. This isn't just a different OS that may or may not be better than iOS. This is a wholly new approach to tablets.
At the press event, Panasonic director, IT Products Business Unit, Hide Harada, stated quite emphatically that the vendor has no intention on pitching this product to the consumer; it's purely a b2b play, and in doing so Panasonic has the found the best chance yet - of the non-Apple vendors - of turning the tablet space into a profitable market opportunity, and indeed dominating over that sector.
Where HP pulled out of the market entirely due to Apple's competitiveness, and where Samsung is embroiled in a legal struggle just to be able to compete, Panasonic has a lucrative market with which to differentiate itself from Apple. The vendor has a large incumbent customer base, and unlike Apple the great generalist, it's able to tailor the product to suit the market. It also enjoys a large degree of customer satisfaction: #1 in the Japanese market four years out of the past five, according to Nikkei PC Magazine.
And, more importantly, Panasonic also has the benefit of self sufficiency. Aside from that operating system, and the core CPU, Panasonic manufactures its own products from start to finish, which is a crucial requirement to being able to tailor a product to suit a vertical.
It's a while away from actual release, but Panasonic has the opportunity to dominate a large part of the tablet market. Where gGovernment and utilities may well have been considering iPad rollouts in the past, the strength in what Panasonic is offering might just be enough to give them cause to wait.
After all, this won't be a case of taking a consumer square and trying to squeeze it into a corporate circle.
Matthew Sainsbury flew to Osaka courtesy of Panasonic