Partners See Business Potential In Cisco Cius

Cisco's Cius tablet could be a breakthrough unified communications device for enterprises, channel partners say, but there's still too little known about it to decide one way or the other.

Still, Cisco partners interviewed by CRN this week had no shortage of interest in the Android-based Cius, especially for how it fits into Cisco's overall UC strategy.

"I was surprised, and then I started to think about it and it makes a lot of sense," said Mont Phelps, president and CEO of NWN, a Waltham, Mass.-based solution provider. "It's my impression that what they're going to be doing is putting it into industrial applications. It's got a very nice interface and form factor and should be a good experience."

The Cius, which Cisco debuted at this week's Cisco Live conference in Las Vegas, weighs 1.5 pounds, includes a front-mounted 720p HD camera, a 7-inch VGA touch-target display, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, 8 hours of battery life, and an accelerometer. It has support for 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and 3G, with 4G services promised at a later date.

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It'll be supported by Cisco's Unified Communications Manager and support Cisco tools such as Cisco Quad, Cisco WebEx Connect and Cisco Presence. Android developers will have access to Cisco Collaboration APIs through a Cius-specific SDK.

Observers at Cisco Live said Cisco made it pretty clear the device is about advancing video and the UC agenda, not making the Cius go head-to-head with Apple's iPad and other tablet challengers.

"'Make video the new voice' is the phrase they used here," said Ken Dulaney, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, who attended the Cius launch at Cisco Live. "When you use that phrase, then it starts to make sense. And the question was asked of Chambers and he said it wasn't about units, but getting more people to use video and getting more people to collaboration. If this doesn't succeed, he'll do something else."

According to various reports from Cisco Live, Cisco Chairman, President and CEO John Chambers tried to dispel the notion of cutthroat Cisco-versus-Apple tablet competition.

"It's complementary to the iPad," Chambers reportedly said at a Cisco Live press roundtable, emphasizing that Cisco does have an architectural play in consumers but that tablets and netbooks for home are "where a number of our peers will lead."

Some solution providers had a hard time seeing the two devices as complementary, though.

"It's interesting to me why they would introduce a pad that runs Android, which Apple hates, in this environment, just to see where it goes," said a Cisco solution provider, who asked not to be named. "I don't see it as a consumer iPad killer, but if it makes serious inroads into the enterprise space, it may force Apple or other iPad clones to make sure they have some of its features. If I'm Apple, I'm definitely thinking, what are they doing here?"

But rather than challenge iPad, Gartner's Dulaney suggested, the Cius seems more about deciding the future of the desk phone.

"If Cisco is smart, what they'll do is take Android and start to put it on all your desk phones, so now we get a family of desk phones that look like smartphones," he said. "There are a lot of implications for that. The other thing you could think about here is that this will strengthen the desk phone's capabilities in the enterprise, or it will hasten its demise to the smartphone."

The Cisco Cius is expected to be available in the first quarter of calendar 2011, with customer trials beginning in the third quarter of 2010. According to Cisco, the price it's targeting is less than $1,000, but exact pricing wasn't confirmed this week.

What might stymie Cisco, Dulaney said, is both the 3G aspect -- "highly portable video conferencing just probably isn't viable in boondocks, where they don't have the service" -- and also the price tag, which if it's in the $1,000 range, said Dulaney, is "discouraging."

"You can get a Wi-Fi only iPad for less than $500," he said.

Next: Is It A True Business Device?

For partners, the key will be whether Cius measures up to Cisco's description of it as an enterprise business tool.

"It's not about being cute, it seems to be about a practical solution to the market where someone needs to walk around and do things in a mobile environment," NWN's Phelps said.

"If I'm a partner who's selling Cisco's UC products, I want to get a few of these into the C-level offices," added Dulaney. "I think this is a seeding effort, not a high-volume, make-me-lots-of-money effort. Vertical market applications will be a focus."

Count Ticonderoga Securities among the observers seeing the collaboration potential and business use cases in Cius.

"The market was surprised by Cisco's tablet announcement, but given the developments in the enterprise, we believe Cisco is well positioned to capitalize on the trends in the workplace, such as collaboration and the rise of the mobile user," wrote Ticonderoga analyst Brian J. White in a research analysis for Barron's.

Cisco's Cius, White added, won't put pressure on Apple so much as it will other companies that might have tablets on the way.

"Given Cisco's longstanding relationship in the enterprise and growing collaboration tool box, we believe the company has a leg up on the competition in pursuing the business tablet market," White wrote.

Robert Betzel, president of Infinity Network Solutions, a Macon, Ga.-based solution provider, said he hasn't had a chance to take a deep look at the Cius yet but it's definitely something to keep tabs on.

"The real question is if it's a nice, neat video tablet or has other potential offerings that might have some legs for real uptake," Betzel said. "It's definitely something we'll look into. It's one of those items they appear to be putting through the channel so we'll take a look and see if it fits."

Either way, observers said, it's a risk Cisco can take.

"They're financially sound, so they can take these kinds of gambles," Gartner's Dulaney said. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work."