Whether or not tablets take over as a new mobile computing form factor of choice for much of the world depends on whether they can be easily used for key functions in ways that smartphones and laptops can't. Clearly, different users will be seeking different "key functions," and thus Panasonic has announced the Toughbook H1 Field. In many ways--nearly every way, in fact--the Toughbook H1 Field is a polar opposite to Apple's iPad.
A variation on an existing H1 used in professional healthcare environments, the Field combines Windows 7 OS with an 1.86 GHz Atom processor and a 10.4-inch dual-touch display. The iPad has a variant of the iPhone OS: the Toughbook H1 Field runs Windows 7. The iPad has an encased battery: the H1 Field has swappable dual batteries offering six hours of battery life, plus charging slots in its cradle for two more batteries for continuous field work. The iPad is sleek but potentially delicate: the Toughbook H1 a six-foot drop rating. And, most importantly, the H1 Field has an optional 2 megapixel camera.
The differences don't end there, though: the H1 Field is a handle-filled device, with a top grip and a a hand strap on the back for serious outdoor industrial use. The polycarbonate-encased magnesium-alloy chassis is weather resistant, and the H1 Field not only has built-in GPS, but Qualcomm's Gobi2000, enabling multi-carrier support for Sprint and Verizon to start with, and more in the future. At 3.4 pounds, it's also over twice the weight of an iPad. And, of course, there's the price: $3,379, as opposed to the starting price of an iPad, which is $499.
Sure, it's an unfair comparison, apples versus an Abrams tank. Nevertheless, the spectrum of variations in the world of tablet computers seems to be incredibly wide, with a number of manufacturers feeling out key features for key markets. The Toughbook H1 Field is primarily focused on big markets such as the military, utility companies, and other mission-critical professions. For these situations, having a heavy-duty touchscreen device could be a lot easier than carrying around a fragile smartphone or unfolding a Netbook. And, of course, who else could afford the cost? Also, having a Windows environment, of course, makes it easier to install custom software to use on the job--although Windows XP would probably be greatly preferred for most large organizations.
Panasonic, Apple, you two should have lunch sometime.