As PlayBook launches, Cisco's Cius slowly emerges

Cisco's enterprise tablet can already be ordered but won't be generally available until May 31

As Research In Motion launched its PlayBook on Thursday evening, Cisco Systems was already accepting orders for its Cius enterprise tablet and shipping it to some customers.

Cisco said in a blog post last week that its direct sales representatives and channel partners began accepting orders for the Cius on March 31. Through the end of May, the company is delivering the devices to "key customer accounts we've identified with unique use cases," spokeswoman Molly Ford said in an e-mail interview. These companies will carry out scaled production deployments of the Cius, according to Cisco.

However, the Cius won't be generally available until May 31, Ford said. That is two months beyond the forecast Cisco gave at the Cius announcement last June, when it said the product would be generally available in the first quarter of this year. However, given the current upheaval at Cisco, a delay is not surprising. Last week, CEO John Chambers called on the company to take dramatic steps to refocus itself, and the future of its consumer-facing businesses is now in doubt.

Though it may end up being compared with the Apple iPad 2 in some enterprises, the Cius is not intended to go up against that device or any other consumer tablet. Cisco is aiming the product at business collaboration, with the ability to interoperate with the company's TelePresence videoconferencing system, the Cisco Quad and Cisco Show social-networking platforms, and the company's WebEx online meeting system. The Cius, which is based on the Android 2.2 operating system, is also designed to run business applications.

The Cius has a 7-inch screen and a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor. It will come initially with Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity, Cisco has said. The company claims about eight hours of battery life. Verizon Wireless said in January that it would begin selling the Cius for use on its 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network in the spring and would be the first carrier to offer the tablet.

RIM's PlayBook is set to go on sale April 19. Like the Cius, it is targeted at enterprises rather than consumers, though the PlayBook will be sold at Best Buy stores. Like the Cius, it also didn't quite meet a first-quarter shipping forecast. But the PlayBook has generated more controversy than the Cius, despite -- or because of -- RIM's mobile heritage. The company's tablet has been criticized most for not allowing access to BlackBerry e-mail without a tethered BlackBerry handset.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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