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Tough Luck - Why Panasonic Isn't Scared of Waterproof Tablets

Tough Luck - Why Panasonic Isn't Scared of Waterproof Consumer Devices

Water resistant or waterproof? You can't deny, one just sounds better than the other. Resistance implies some kind of marginal impedance. Waterproof? Now that's a word with confidence. So why isn't Panasonic's Toughbook division, which markets its products (like the recently released 7-inch JT-B1 Toughpad) based on their durability and toughness, worried about the rapid emergence of consumer tablets that are sleeker, more stylish, more powerful and now fully waterproof too, like Sony's Xperia Tablet Z or Fujitsu's Stylistic QH582

We spoke to Hide Harada, Director of Panasonic's IT Products Business Unit, who explained, "More and more manufacturers are using ruggedized technology in their devices but it doesn't mean the product is rugged. Yes, Sony's tablet can be submerged in water, but it isn't dust proof, shock proof or drop proof. In order for Sony to accomplish waterproofing, their build has to be fully sealed to ensure water tightness, which means the specification must be fixed, so there's no options for customization, and it also makes it extremely difficult to repair."

For Panasonic, water resistance is just one facet of a product's ruggedness. With 16 years of rugged device building experience, each Toughbook or Toughpad is subject to over 501 tests at Panasonic's Kobe factory to ensure its resistance to shock, dust, drops, humidity, sand and temperature changes. Panasonic is also one of the few major device manufacturers to offer complete customization for their products with everything from the motherboard, to the battery and RAM made in-house by Panasonic (the only thing that isn't made by Panasonic is the CPU). So while Sony may offer better protection against one facet of the environment, Panasonic can offer complete ruggedness, extensive customization and a 48-hour turnaround time on repairs.

Panasonic's In House Testing Procedure

Still, wouldn't waterproofing offer more peace of mind against accidents than just water resistance? Just how much water can one of Panasonic's water resistant product withstand? As it turns out, a lot more than you might think.

First, there's something you should know about IPX ratings, the international standard rating scale used to determine how well a product can handle wet conditions:

  • IPX-1 – Protected against condensation or dripping water falling vertically.
  • IPX-2 – Protected against spraying water when tilted up to 15 degrees vertically.
  • IPX-3 – Protected against spraying water when tilted up to 60 degrees vertically.
  • IPX-4 – Protected against splashing water from any angle.
  • IPX-5 – Protected against low pressure water stream from any angle.
  • IPX-6 – Protected against high pressure water stream from any angle.
  • IPX-7 – Protected against water immersion. Immersion for 30 minutes at a depth of up to 1 meter.
  • IPX-8 – Protected against continual water submersion in under water conditions.

What this chart doesn't tell you is how long a product is protected against water for. IPX-4 certification requires a product survive for just ten minutes in wet conditions. Anything longer than that is considered out of spec. You may be thinking that ten minutes isn't very long, well Panasonic agrees, which is why it subjects its IPX-4 certified products to 60 minutes of water splashing instead.

The U.S. Military's MIL-STD-810F test works the same way. Certification requires just 15 minutes of exposure to water. Panasonic's in house testing? Twelve hours.

So just how much water can one of Panasonic's Water Resistant products take? Here's what every Panasonic IPX-5 certified product goes through (as you can see, it's more than just a few splashes):

So if Panasonic isn't worried about competition from Sony and other consumer manufacturers, does it see anybody as its competition? Harada explains, "There are only a few small and medium-sized competitors out there, such as Getac and Motion. It's not easy to manufacturer rugged devices. Not only is the product design difficult, due to the numerous factors that must be protected against - dust, vibration, temperature, water etc. - it is very difficult to build and manufacturer the devices as well." A fact driven home by the realization that for 16 years, all of Panasonic's Toughbooks and Toughpads have been built and assembled by Panasonic machines (built by a different division of the huge company) at Panasonic's Kobe factory. 

So what's next for Panasonic? Harada says, "Our challenge now is how to expand our market beyond its current size. We have to create demand for a targeted segment." Panasonic already owns 60% of the rugged PC market and has also set its sights on doubling the market share of its rugged tablet business. As for the possibility of rugged smartphones? Harada says, "If enough customers request it, yes, we can build it. But if we do it, it won't be a consumer smartphone like Apple and Samsung, it will have to be ruggedized."