Can Cisco Cius and AppHQ Shape the Enterprise Tablet Landscape?
Cisco Systems took the wraps off the Cius tablet in a TelePresence presentation June 29, 2011, followed by a hands-on test drive, which The VAR Guy was all too happy to take part in. Cisco made it clear it is serious about its tablet strategy: The Cius is not a consumer product. Rather, Cisco has endeavored to answer the needs of the enterprise, some of which can’t be addressed with a consumer tablet offering. From encryption to a curated application store, Cius may have more potential than the tech community initially gave it credit for. Read on for the details …
First, the tech specs: The Cius tablet has a 7-inch screen, 1.6 GHz Atom CPU (a non-traditional choice, but likely driven by Cisco’s 720p video needs), 32GB of storage, front and rear cameras, and many tech specs also found in a regular Android tablet. But the Cius isn’t running Honeycomb — it’s running a version of Android 2.2, which is normally seen in phones. So what’s the story there?
It turns out, Cisco’s team gutted some of Android’s native APIs and added its own, including power optimizations, real-time services, new libraries and a specific phone-call stack to make the Cius tablet integrate with all of Cisco’s UC, presence and TelePresence technologies. There are also built-in APIs that allow for a mouse pointer, left and right click and scrolling, so when the Cius is plugged into the dock and connected to an external display, it can become a VDI portal. Cisco then demo-ed a Cius that had been docked and was running Microsoft Office, keyboard and mouse, all through the Citrix Android app. Color The VAR Guy impressed.
Multitasking was also a key focus. Cisco showed a video call over a landline on a docked Cius. When the Cius was taken out of the dock, it seamlessly switched over to Wi-Fi with no interruption to the video call. The user could simultaneously perform other tasks while the video call was session, pushing the video call to the background, but with audio continuing as usual. It’s was all done smoothly, with each specific application flowing to the next, all ubiquitously connected to each other via intuitive pop-overs that link to the most frequently needed UC applications and tasks.
The Cius dock itself is impressive, too, stopping short of being a full-fledged thin client. It sports display, Ethernet and USB ports, and in the absence of regular power, PoE (power over Ethernet) can be enabled, so the Cius dock needs only one plug to be fully powered and working.
But just like a smartphone, the Cius is only as productive as the apps that run on it. Enter AppHQ, Cisco’s own personal app store, curated and designed for the Cius. It’s one step removed from the Google Marketplace, including only applications Cisco has deemed safe and secure. In addition, developers can choose to push apps directly to AppHQ. Cisco wants people to know the Cius is an Android device at its core, and Android Marketplace was also available to all who use the tablet, but IT admins have the power to block it off if necessary. A company then can ensure users only access to the Cisco AppHQ. Or, for even greater control, Cisco allows companies to create their own personalized app store for their users, be it for internal apps, Cisco apps or approved marketplace apps.
Cisco has also gone out of its way to address security concerns with mobile corporate devices, by incorporating strong policy management control and hardware-based encryption. As for upgrading and longevity, 4G versions of the Cius will ship shortly, and in the eventual release of Android 4.0 (a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich) the Cius will receive an OS update. To help keep the Cius safe, case maker OtterBox has signed on to make a ruggedized and hermetically sealed case, likely to be popular in the healthcare vertical.
Although attendees were quick to ask how Cius stacked up against the iPad or BlackBerry Playbook, Cisco was steadfast in asserting one thing: The Cius is not a consumer tablet, and it never will be. People who need the Cius won’t be satisfied with consumer-level devices, and Cisco is trying its hardest to provide a 100 percent business-focused tablet. It also will available only through business channels (priced at $650 to $750 a pop, depending on volume) and will not be offered to the consumer directly.
Initial Cius customers were there via TelePresence to discuss their love for the device, praising its productivity and functionality. But let’s keep a level head here: Even the most amazingly designed business tablet in the world is only as successful as the people who want it. While the initial reception is good, keep in mind Cisco’s Communication Manager (or a compatible open standards platform) needs to be there to take advantage of all the UC goodness, and the price tag isn’t exactly cheap. The VAR Guy is anxious, however, to see what happens. There’s no doubt the Cius packs an overwhelming amount of potential inside 7 inches.
Cius hits the global marketplace July 31, 2011, and you can bet our resident blogger will be keeping tabs on its reception, adoption and proliferation as the year rolls on.