Is 2014 going to be the year of fresh starts for companies that previously turned their backs on the smartphone market? After the shuttering of webOS, HP bowed-out for a couple years, but this week we saw the company step up to face the industry again, announcing its extra-large VoiceTab models running Android. Today we get word that another company that we though was done with phones may be sticking around for an encore, with rumors that Panasonic could be preparing to introduce a new handset at the MWC.
As you may recall, we heard rumors about Panasonic leaving smartphones last summer, following a similar announcement from NEC. Sure enough, by early fall, the news was confirmed. But now a report out of Japan claims that Panasonic has cooked up a new smartphone, one that’s ruggedized and features a five-inch display (no word on resolution).
Did Panasonic really change its mind? Well, that remains to be seen. Even if this news is true, we could still see it making sense in context of Panasonic’s departure announcement, where it said it would “stop development of smartphones for the mass market;” maybe a ruggedized handset for industry use – and this report specifically mentions construction sites – is far enough from “mass market” that Panasonic’s still interested. Then again, maybe Panasonic really is interested in making another go at things. We just might find out in a few weeks in Barcelona.
Update: The news looks official, though it’s not quite what we would have expected. Instead of another Android device, Panasonic is going with Windows Embedded 8 Handheld; so, what the heck is that? It’s a platform based on WP8 (with a Metro UI and the ability to run WP8 apps) but intended for retail/industry tasks, rather than ending up in phones for individual users.