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Panasonic to build Toughbook-style smartphone

Japanese giant abandons consumers for more rugged customers

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Panasonic has become the latest venerable Japanese electronics giant to abandon the consumer smartphone market, with the firm set to concentrate its efforts on producing a “Toughbook” handset for business use.

Company president Kazuhiro Tsuga told Reuters that it will continue to sell consumer handsets in emerging markets under the Panasonic brand but they will be made by other manufacturers.

Rumours of the consumer pull-out swirled last month after Panasonic’s sole remaining champion and Japan’s largest carrier, NTT Docomo, announced that it would henceforth focus on marketing Sony and Samsung handsets with big discounts.

However, the once proud electronics giant, which in 2001 climbed to second place in the Japanese mobile phone market behind NEC, seems more confident when it comes to business sales.

The new range of handsets Tsuga claimed Panasonic is working on will be similar to its Toughbook laptops and tablets, so may appeal to the likes of BT engineers, folks who work in nasty out the way places and white van drivers.

Toughbook is a decent brand and El Reg has rated the last two offerings in the rangepretty highly.

As for Panasonic’s consumer smartphone business, it appears to have been yet another victim of the Apple's and Samsung's success in Japan.

The firm already announced it was pulling out of the European smartphone market after just a year back in November 2012.

NEC was rumoured to be considering the same in July this year after talks to set up a smartphone JV with Lenovo failed.

Tsuga will be hoping the decision to exit the consumer smartphone market will help streamline the firm and remove some red ink from the balance sheet. The mobile division as a whole posted an ¥8.1bn loss last year and will likely bleed ¥1.1bn (£6.4m) for the financial year ending in March 2014, he told Reuters.

After record losses of ¥772.1bn (£6bn, $9.8bn) in the fiscal year ending March 2012, Panasonic had to rely on ¥600bn (£4.7bn, $7.6bn) in bank loans to tide it over.

"It's not acceptable for the company to be bleeding red ink like this, so we have to think about ways to develop assets that we do have in a more effective direction," Tsuga told Reuters. ®

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