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Cisco Cius: A Revolution or a Copycat?

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On Tuesday, Cisco unveiled its first entry into the burgeoning tablet computer market: the Cius (pronounced "see-us," pun intended). The Cius is a Google Android-based “mobile collaboration tablet" aimed firmly at enterprise early adopters, and likely to be priced accordingly around $900-1000.

The Cius is fully interoperable with Cisco's business telecommunications products, including Cisco Quad, Show and Share, WebEx, Presence and Unified Communications Manager. In addition to the standard email, messaging, and browsing tools, it has one big feature that the iPad has been criticized for lacking; not just one, but two cameras for full HD video streaming and multi-party conferencing. With a 7 inch touchscreen, the device is an ultra-portable tablet that’s targeted at business users that can benefit from real-time, video-based collaboration. Connectivity is through either a 3G network (no carrier partnerships have been announced yet) or Wi-Fi, with 4G support coming "at a later date."

The Cius can also be plugged into a desk phone-like dock that contains a handset and speakerphone capabilities. With the Cius, "Cisco is trying to bring relevance back to the desktop handset after getting the spotlight stolen by the smartphones in our pockets - something that Verizon and others have tried to do with multimedia stations for their phone service with limited success," says Demetri Costoyiannis, a Senior  Engineer here at M5. "Cisco's XML on-phone web apps on the 79xx series were a start but they are pretty limited. With the Android platform this is a whole new ballgame."

Cisco has been diversifying its product line beyond its networking equipment in recent years, and the Cius tablet complements the firm's cloud computing, collaboration and videoconferencing initiatives. Such a business will nicely drive demand for new specialized video-capable products as well as higher-bandwidth networking routers and switches that generate much of its revenue. In fact, Cisco CEO John Chambers has said, "Our whole structure was built around collaboration combined with video." Cisco entered the video market with its Flip acquisition from last year, but the Cius is the first time the company has offered a video-enabled computing device.

"This is a big deal for the Android OS," Costoyiannis continues. "It reinforces the fact that they want to make their business offerings as smart as the mobile devices out there." Here at M5, we share that common goal. We want to create a business communication system that can do more than be just a phone. We've built apps for the iPad, are currently testing several Android-based devices- and can't wait to get our hands on a Cius.

"This is a glimpse of the future," M5's National Sales Executive Pat Duffy says. "People will have an iPad or a device like the Cius cradled at their desk that they will use as their phone, but they will also use it for other things like notes and collaboration. It will no longer be appropriate for a device to serve a single purpose. It would be like having one laptop for Word and a separate one for Excel. It's all coming together, and it's going to be awesome."

Apple's iPad has undoubtedly set off a tablet computer frenzy in the marketplace, with many new competitors set to be released over the next few months. Cisco hopes to differentiate the Cius from such competitors by targeting it specifically at businesses and businesspeople who value quick, easy face-to-face video collaboration. As a device designed expressly for enterprise, the Cius has an inherent leg up on products designed for mainstream consumers - the iPad's exclusion of a camera for videoconferencing is a major disadvantage. The iPad seems to be dominating Silicon Valley's boardrooms, but Cisco hopes that the Cius can quickly replace it as the enterprise tablet of choice.