Panasonic teams with IBM on smart appliances, and GM for car app platform

The Japanese manufacturer is stressing its strengths beyond its struggling TVs and electronics

By Jay Alabaster, IDG News Service |  

Panasonic has grabbed headlines this week with impressive 4K TV and tablet demos, but the company is also stressing expansion beyond its struggling consumer electronics business, announcing partnerships with the likes of IBM and General Motors.

The Japanese electronics giant showed a 56-inch OLED 4K TV, then followed with a 20-inch 4K tablet, during its keynote presentation at the International CES show in Las Vegas. Company President Kazuhiro Tsuga then emphasized such products would be less of a focus in the future.

"Many of you may think of Panasonic as a television manufacturing company, for very good reason," Tsuga said.

However, he said, "Our future is being built on far more than a single product category."

The firm revealed it is working with IBM on its young line of Internet-enabled home appliances, seeking to improve the user experience. The company's current offerings include refrigerators, ovens and air conditioners that can use smartphones to connect to online services.

"Panasonic is working with IBM to assess the business and technical value of future home appliances connected to the cloud," said Panasonic North America CEO Joe Taylor.

The company also described how it is providing the technology behind GM's new in-car entertainment platform. The system will be included in several GM cars this year, and allows developers to build apps based on HTML5 that can then be downloaded and installed by drivers long after they have purchased their vehicles.

Tsuga also described Panasonic's growing business in airplane entertainment systems. He said the company will install a system for passengers that includes broadband Internet in over 1,600 planes this year, and said the company has 275 airlines as customers.

Panasonic is in the middle of a restructuring under Tsuga, who took over last year and is overseeing tens of thousands of job cuts as the company shifts focus.

In its fiscal year through March 2012, the company made a loss of nearly US$9 billion, with 70 percent of its revenue coming from TVs, mobile phones and semiconductors.

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