Yesterday I spent some time with Cisco learning about the new Cius tablet focused on the business market. The company has done its best to make this device a no-brainer purchase for companies already knee-deep in Cisco hardware and software solutions and moreover it has really thought through what the enterprise needs in a tablet. With a huge focus on security, hardware-accelerated encryption and even customizable app stores by company, the potential for this tablet is great.
For example with APPHQ, Cisco’s app store, employees can only download apps which are allowed by an organization. I can tell you personally that Angry Birds can create a business productivity black hole and I suggest no IT departments allow this app on the Cius. But if you are interested in allowing lots of apps to be downloaded, the tablet is based on Android meaning available apps for the device shouldn’t be an issue. Current APPHQ items which the company has deemed hot are Cisco Quad, Citrix Receiver for Cius, VMware View Client, Wyse PocketCloud Pro, Evernote and Wifi Analyzer.
I did get a chance do use the tablet for a while and I surfed the web and played some games to get an idea of how the performance of the tablet compares to other devices. It seems about as quick as an iPad 2 in my informal tests and the audio was better – with stronger bass. The graphics were on par with the iPad 2 as well – I didn’t detect any noticeable difference.
Of course the Cius is only seven inches across diagonally making it smaller than the 9.7 inch iPad but it will be sufficient for most tasks. The downside is the device is considerably thicker than the iPad 2 but part of the reason according to the company is the removable battery. Then again the Blackberry PlayBook is thinner than the Cisco tablet and also has a removable battery.
One of the biggest differentiators of this tablet is the fact it will easily run virtualized sessions and when needed transfer control of an audio or video session to the local device to avoid excessive delays, jitter, latency and choppiness. The video below gives you an idea of how this works in a click to call and video scenario.
The company introduced me to a number of customers yesterday and one takeaway was the Cius ties in nicely with the Cisco VPN and because it is such a secure device it gives comfort to IT managers who have to deal with compliance issues in industries like healthcare and financial.
The company tried its best to differentiate the tablet by touting the fact that so much software the company produces runs natively on it. For example Cisco Quad, WebEx and Jabber but the question is, what is the benefit of having these apps built-in when they can be downloaded easily on a competitive tablet?
The communications interface is slick – you can see a person’s presence easily, touch their picture and be presented with a communications bar allowing you initiate all sorts of conversations from video to chat. You can open documents, edit them, save them locally or in the cloud.
The tablet can be plugged into a phone to become the screen – it supports multiple USB connections for a mouse, keyboard and other peripherals. It also has dual speakers, an Intel Atom 1.6 GHz processor, 32 GB of flash memory, a light sensor, a 3-axis accelerometer, support for PoE, Android 2.2 (Froyo), a Micro SD slot, Micro USB and HDMI and a weight of just 1.15 pounds – just under the iPad 2 which weighs in at 1.33 pounds. The street price is less than $750 and $100 less in volume – and it supports WiFi, 3G and 4G.
As I mentioned yesterday the natural way to sell such a device is as the evolution of the desk phone with so much more. This tablet is a natural for Fortune class companies looking to bring control to their devices. I really like the Cius tablet – it is a bit too thick in my opinion but it didn’t feel overly heavy as I used it and it certainly is a better communications device than a stationary desk or video-phone.
The challenges here are how many people want a seven-inch tablet when they can get a ten-inch tablet at a similar price? It is worth noting in my tests with the Cius and the Blackberry Playbook that you get used to the smaller form-factor and obviously there are some portability benefits to a smaller device.
Is Cius a winner? Yes – absolutely but that doesn’t mean it will be successful. Hear me out. The Cius and the Avaya A175 with the Flare interface are building a category called enterprise tablet and to date it isn’t clear if this is a real category or not. By real I mean – substantial in terms of the number of devices sold. In other words, other than some vertical markets like hospitals where IT generally directs such device rollouts, most other industries have seen the BYOD-effect of the consumerization of IT meaning IT doesn’t dictate as much as they used to. Moreover, many workers are purchasing their own tablets and bringing them to work – reducing corporate expense while keeping workers happier.
One final issue is the tablet market right now is pretty much all iPad and Android devices haven’t made much of a dent. Analysts believe this will change but some people of note believe it is possible for Apple to own the tablet space. Moreover, with the close synergy between iTunes and iCloud, Apple makes it that much more desirable to have your tablet come from the same company.
Cisco has done an admirable job with the Cius and has developed a product which answers the needs of IT shops while simultaneously being engaging enough to keep workers happy. Having unified communications and collaboration built-in to a tablet means productivity can skyrocket as workers no longer need to be in a fixed location to take advantage of video, presence and more. If Cisco can sell this story – and I believe it is an easy one to sell, then the rest of the apps and productivity boost of having a computer connected to workers at all times will be gravy – making the Cius a no-brainer communications investment with rapid and measurable ROI.