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July 27, 2017

GammaTech celebrates its 30th anniversary

GammaTech Computer Corporation is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, July 2017. That's amazing longevity in an industry where big names come and go. And it marks GammaTech as one of the pioneers in an industry and technology that truly changed the world.

It's hard to believe that it's been 40 years since the Apple II rang in the era of personal computers, seen first just as expensive toys for nerds and hobbyists, but then, four years later, legitimized by the IBM PC.

The 1980s were the Wild West era of personal computers. PC trade shows drew huge crowds. Trade magazines had many hundreds of pages every issue. Everyone wanted in on the action.

Taiwan early on established itself as a major player in the OEM industry, OEM standing for Original Equipment Manufacturer, companies that actually make the products sold by another company under a different name. One such company in Taiwan was Twinhead International Corporation, established in 1984. Initially a domestic maker of PCs and peripherals, Twinhead soon branched into global markets, setting up subsidiaries in the US, Germany, France, and the UK, as well as distributors in dozens of other countries.

Twinhead USA, now known as GammaTech, was the first such international branch and became instrumental in distributing a succession of interesting, innovative Twinhead Slimnote, Superlap, Supernote and Efio! brand laptops.

Times, however, changed. PCs became a commodity in a market increasingly dominated by a few large companies. Even IBM dropped out of the PC business, and other major players began concentrating on niche markets. Just as Panasonic launched the Toughbook and built that brand, Twinhead turned its focus to industrial and application-specific and mission-critical systems and launched the Durabook brand of rugged notebooks and tablets.

And when did the Durabook brand get started? It happened a little bit like with Panasonic whose rugged notebooks existed before the Toughbook name was introduced. Twinhead, likewise, launched their first military-grade rugged notebook, the N1400, around the turn of the millennium, but the Durabook brand itself began appearing in 2002.

In our 2003 Comdex coverage, we reported that "Twinhead announced their latest series of semi-rugged notebooks that may prove to be tough competition for Panasonic." We had ample opportunity to examine Twinhead quality and ingenuity firsthand in products the company created for and with longtime partner and customer Itronix. An example was the Itronix GoBook Duo-Touch where our reaction was "Wow. They really nailed it this time." And the Itronix GoBook II — which started life at Twinhead's manufacturing plants before they were sent for final customer configuration at Itronix in Washington — became Pen Computing Magazine's Editor's Choice in the "high performance rugged notenbook."

GammaTech displayed a show of strength again a couple of years later in the 2005 Pen Computing Magazine's Editor's Choice Awards where Durabooks battled Panasonic Toughbooks to a draw with two awards each.

That same year, RuggedPCReview reviewed the Durabook N14RA. In the review we mentioned Twinhead's initial Durabook "Slim, mobile, ruggedized, and affordable" slogan, and that the N14RA certainly fit that bill. We liked not only the design and toughness of the N14RA laptop, but also praised Twinhead for a "masterful job selecting materials and textures". We also explained how the company had very productive relationships with major vertical market leaders such as Itronix, and thus has gained substantial expertise in the design and manufacturing of durable, ruggedized, and fully rugged mobile computing equipment.

Over the years, we have examined and reported on GammaTech Durabooks dozens of times. Around 2010-2012 we found Twinhead's N-Series of magnesium-bodied notebook computers "very solid and trust-inspiring." We were impressed with the Durabook U12C and R13S convertible notebooks that provided the same functionality as the market leaders, but at a significantly lower price.

More recently, we applauded GammaTech making available the DurabookK R8300, an updated version of the Twinhead-sourced General Dynamics Itronix GD8200. This was a terrific fully-rugged laptop that appeared to vanish when General Dynamics closed down Itronix. But GammaTech brought it back better than ever.

We did detailed reviews of GammaTech's various rugged tablets and were particularly impressed with the still available Durabook R11: "to say that the GammaTech Durabook R11 is impressive would be an understatement." GammaTech then followed up with an updated R11 tablet in conjunction with a well-conceived keyboard that made for a very useful hybrid 2-in-1 ("A well conceived, well executed solution without any of the flimsiness and stability issues of most add-on keyboards"):

Likewise, we were impressed with the updated Durabook SA14 semi-rugged laptop and called it "a good deal for anyone who needs a high-performance, highly configurable notebook that is significantly tougher than standard consumer laptops and should hold up well in daily use".

Overall, GammaTech could serve as a case study both of longevity based on exemplary quality and dedication, but also of the challenges of splitting business between OEM/ODM and one's own brands.

Given the company's experience in rugged markets and the remarkable quality and price points of its products, one would expect to find GammaTech among the rugged computing market leaders. But those spots are taken by Panasonic, with Getac and Dell battling for second place. The closing down of General Dynamics Itronix probably was a big blow for Twinhead. Another issue might have been product overlap as a result of OEM customers requesting similar but not identical models that could cause confusion when appearing under the Durabook name.

Now, celebrating its 30th birthday, GammaTech sports a trim, focused product lineup that includes the SA14 and S15AB semi-rugged laptops, the fully rugged R8300 laptop, the rugged R11 tablet that can also be used as a 2-in-1, the military-style 10-inch V10BB fixed-mount tablet/panel, and the multi-purpose 24-inch Durabook P24 workstation. Between the company's long established experience and track record, the Durabook brand equity, and a fine-tuned product roster that's not only technologically up-to-date but also attractively priced, the pieces are in place for GammaTech to set its sights on gaining marketshare.

So congratulations, GammaTech, on your 30th anniversary, and for contributing so much to making computers durable, tough and rugged enough to hold up out there on the job and in the field. And for keeping them affordable. Best of luck for the future. You have much going for yourselves.

Posted by conradb212 at July 27, 2017 11:09 PM