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Cisco Cius: Don't Count It Out, Yet

Some critics have written off the Cisco Cius, but I now have a sense for why Cisco feels its communications gadget doesn't have to beat the iPad to win.

Although Cisco has been talking up the Cius for over a year, it only began shipping as a generally available product in August, De La Mora said. The initial models are relatively small tablets, featuring 7-inch screens, and work over Wi-Fi when not plugged into a docking station that turns them into desktop video phones. Mobile 4G versions are in the pipeline for distribution though AT&T and Verizon. In addition, Cisco has promised both larger and smaller versions in 2012 to meet varying enterprise needs.

When docked into a desktop phone, the Cius essentially becomes the touchpad screen on the front of the phone. It looks like part of the phone, unlike the Flare device, which is a separate desktop gadget designed to sit next to your phone.

For demo purposes, Cisco showed me the Cius with an external keyboard and monitor plugged into the phone. Gregg Hochhauser, a consulting systems engineer who conducted the demo, told me he typically just uses the screen built into the Cius for video calls with colleagues. The screen also allows you to browse the corporate directory – now more "social," thanks to the addition of profile pictures – and finger tap on a contact to initiate a call, instant message, or video session. If your organization has adopted Cisco's Quad enterprise social networking software, you can also install a Quad client to browse status messages and group discussions.

Pull the Cius out of the docking station, and you can go mobile, using it as a tablet with built-in telephony and videoconferencing capabilities. You can make and take calls through the speakerphone, or using a Bluetooth headset.

After Hochhauser set me up on a video call with one of his colleagues elsewhere in the building, we were able to undock the unit without dropping the call. He then let me carry the Cius down the hall, continuing the videoconference over the Wi-Fi network, and walk into an office where we could see the other side of the conversation--my image up on the screen of a Cisco EX90 desktop telepresence unit. The resulting audio feedback from having both videoconference endpoints in the same room was pretty comical, but the video looked good for coming out of such a small camera.

Hochhauser also showed me the Cius functioning as a desktop virtualization client, capable of displaying a Windows desktop on the tiny screen and allowing you to open applications or documents. It's not the way you'd want to work all day long, but useful in a pinch.

I see the potential of the Cius and plan to follow up with case studies on Cisco customers who are exploring practical applications for the device.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

The Enterprise Connect conference program covers the full range of platforms, services, and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. It happens March 25-29 in Orlando, Fla. Find out more.

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