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Panasonic returns to smartphone arena with Toughpad handset for corporate clients

A man walks past Panasonic Corp's logos at an electronics store in Tokyo October 31, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
A man walks past Panasonic Corp's logos at an electronics store in Tokyo October 31, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Sophie Knight and Reiji Murai

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese electronics supplier Panasonic Corp said it will make a partial return to the smartphone market with two high-cost models, marketed at business customers as counterparts to its hard-wearing Toughbook laptops and Toughpad tablets.

The handsets, now on display at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, extend Panasonic's shift toward corporate clients rather than retail consumers. Squeezed by weak sales of consumer electronics like TVs, the company lost $15 billion over two years before embarking on a restructuring that should see it return to profit this fiscal year.

Having pulled out of the consumer smartphone business last year, Panasonic said on Monday it is aiming to make 40,000 Toughpad handsets per year. They will first be available in Japan with a price tag of about 130,000 yen ($1,300), before being rolled out to Europe and the United States.

With a five-inch screen and three centimeters thick, the handsets are designed to match the Toughpad tablets for resilience. According to Panasonic, they can be dunked in water, withstand a fall of up to three meters and function in temperatures in a range from minus 20 degrees to 60 degrees celsius.

The company will release two versions of the handsets carrying the Toughpad brand, one running Microsoft's Windows Embedded 8 and the other running Google's Android operating system.

($1 = 102.6750 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Sophie Knight and Reiji Murai; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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