It’s clear that Apple’s iPad has set the bar among tablet computers, especially for business, with its affordability and ease of use. But increasingly, other companies seem to be trying to carve out their own niches at the fringes of the tablet market. For Panasonic, that niche is field technicians, whose jobs demand the most durable device possible.

Long a player in the rugged device game with its Toughbook line of laptops, Panasonic will enter the rugged tablet market with its Touchpad A1, expected to be released this spring, to a market that analysts expect to surge in the coming years. According to Fortune’s Michael Lev-Ram, quoting numbers from the VDC Research Group, the rugged tablet market will top $6 billion by 2013.

Built for field service workers who operate in the most punishing of conditions, the Android-based Touchpad A1 features:

  • 10.1-inch multi-touch display that’s visible even under a midday glare.
  • GPS- and Bluetooth-enabled.
  • 2 megapixel front-facing camera and 5 megapixel rear camera.
  • Supports both 4G and 3G mobile broadband, depending on the user’s wireless carrier.
  • 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage.
  • Weighs slightly more than 2 lbs (the iPad weighs about 1.5 lbs).

Durability comes at a price, though. GadgetWiki’s Kelly Brockwell reports that the Touchpad A1 will cost $1,300, more than twice as much as an iPad (and about a half-pound heavier). The Touchpad A1, though, does include comparable features, including dual cameras, allowing technicians to communicate and even broadcast tricky customer problems from the field.

For most field service applications, the iPad, enclosed in a heavy duty case such as those from OtterBox, should do the trick at a fraction of the cost. But for the most extreme field service jobs — those that require mobile workers to submit to extreme conditions for extended periods of time — the Touchpad A1 just might do the trick.