Cisco Cius is not a tablet

"I look at Cius as a reference design," says Ken Dulaney, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner

Despite its inevitable comparisons to the popular Apple iPad, Cisco's Cius is viewed more as another entry point into Cisco's collaboration ecosystem and less as the company's entry into tablet computing.

Launched a year ago, the Cius was reintroduced this week with pricing and an availability date: $750, and July 31. Cisco is pitching it as a business, rather than all-purpose, tablet computer for inter- and intra-enterprise collaboration, combining data, phone and TelePresence video capabilities in a single desktop or mobile device.

But with Apple's iPad already established as a general-purpose tablet for home and business use, and with enterprises selectively allowing employees to access company information and applications from the personal device of their choosing, Cius isn't expected to make much of an impact beyond Cisco's base of IP telephony and collaboration customers.

BUSINESS USES: 10 compelling apps for Cisco Cius

"I look at Cius as a reference design," says Ken Dulaney, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "It's useful for what you're doing -- if you're in a vertical market where the telephony and collaboration stuff works together. But as a tablet by itself, I don't think it's going to be that interesting."

Dulaney mentioned that Cius is "thicker" and based on an older version of Android than more general-purpose tablets. And purchasing Cius will be based on a customer's acceptance of Cisco's collaboration foundation -- namely, Unified Communications Manager -- rather than the appeal of Cius itself.

"You can get iPads to work on a variety of collaboration systems today," Dulaney says.

Indeed, ProtonMedia, a collaboration systems integrator, is preparing for pilots involving 5,000 iPads. ProtonMedia President and COO Reggie Best is skeptical that Cius will command that type of demand.

ProtonMedia is an authorized reseller of Microsoft unified communications software and does not have any authorized resale arrangement with Apple or Cisco.

"The device that everybody is asking us to support is iPad and iOS," Best says. "Nobody's asked me about Cius, ever. But I can only base this on the large multinationals that we're selling to. Everybody's got a pilot that's starting or rolling out on iPad in 2011 or 2012."

But huge factors in selecting an enterprisewide tablet platform are applications and security, observers note. Apple may have a ton more applications on iPad than Cisco has on Cius -- Cisco just rolled out its AppHQ store for Cius this week, too -- but Cisco's are tailored specifically for securely allowing businesses to collaborate on projects.

"Depending on how Apple plays it, it could be their game to lose at this point," says Spencer Giacalone, an independent IT and networking consultant in Jersey City, N.J. "Security is a big factor."

That's where Cisco has the edge, according to Dulaney. Even though the AppHQ store may be sparsely populated right now, its focus is on enterprise battle-tested collaboration applications that emphasize security.

"The key thing Cisco need to get across is the ecosystem they've put together," Dulaney says. "It's the first Android complete enterprise ecosystem for manageability, security, special filtering of apps... a whole bunch of things that the enterprise would like. Now you have to invest in UCM as part of it, but I think it's a statement of what's needed in the Android marketplace, for sure."

"Maybe there will be some security-related things that will get organizations more jazzed around (Cius)," Best says.

Cisco is intent on expanding AppHQ, both through ecosystem partners as well as with its own collaboration portfolio -- UCM, Quad social networking, WebEx meeting and TelePresence virtual conferencing. This may be a key factor in market acceptance of Cius -- and Cisco UCM, Giacalone notes.

And as a business desktop replacement, as Cisco has pitched? There's some healthy skepticism there as well.

"I think the premise that smart devices are out-and-out replacements for desktops is arguable," Giacalone says. "Assuming the premise was true, Cisco's brand in this particular space still has to be established. In addition, Cisco is a late entrant to the field, and its recent moves out of the more consumer-oriented product space would make me hesitate -- ever so slightly -- when considering this product."

"That's a tough one," Dulaney says. "There's a lot of factors that tie into that. Because of the licensing cost for Microsoft, it doesn't pay for you to go thin client."

Enterprises are also more likely to adopt Web browsing as their "desktop replacement" rather than Android or iOS, he says. Applications do not require local run-time and can run on a variety of different platforms, Dulaney notes.

"Most of the organizations that I'm dealing with are talking about giving tablets to, primarily, information consumers -- sales guys," ProtonMedia's Best says. "They're not creating content, developing a marketing plan, doing software development. ... I don't see tablets replacing Windows PCs or (Apple) Macs for that part of the enterprise."

But again, it's not the tablet itself that will dictate Cius' success in the market; it's acceptance of Cisco UCM and Android for securely running business-critical collaboration applications.

"Cisco's not a tablet manufacturer," Dulaney says. "Either you have to have UCM, or you have to be willing to put it in."

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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