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.

David Carr

January 9, 2012

6 Min Read
Network Computing logo

The Cisco Cius is not going to beat the iPad--and that's okay with Cisco.

After getting a demo and briefing at a Cisco office just outside of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., I understand the target market for the Cisco Cius a lot better. Whether the Cius will capture that market, I don't know, but I do think it's premature to write Cisco off.

Cisco asked for equal time after I wrote an admiring column on the Avaya Flare unified communications client, which offers a clever way of using social media icons to set up phone and videoconferences. Avaya has created an iPhone version of the Flare software, with a Windows version on the way, but it first came to market as a desktop device meant to be used as a videoconferencing appliance with an 11.6-inch screen that integrates with your phone and other executive office gadgets. You can pull the Flare device out of its docking station, but it's not really meant to be something you would carry around with you. That led me to write that although it the Flare is based on Google's Android mobile operating system, as is the Cius, "unlike the Cisco Cius, it's not really meant to compete in the tablet computer market."

Cisco wanted to make it clear that the Cius will not be competing in the consumer tablet market, either, in the sense that you will never see Cius units for sale at Target, beside iPads and Android tablets for the mass market. They have promoted it all along as an enterprise device, although it's more of a tablet than the Flare device is, in the sense of being more mobile.

[ Learn why videoconferencing will become essential to business in 2012. ]

Avaya assumes, somewhat sensibly, that the best way to access the mobile tablet market where the iPad is so popular is to make the Flare software available on the iPad. Roberto De La Mora, a Cisco solutions marketing executive who oversees the family of IP communications devices that includes the Cius, said Cisco also acknowledges that it must support the consumer devices that are becoming more prevalent in enterprise settings.

"If they decide they want an iPad, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or whatever, we want to support them on the device they choose," De La Mora said. "But if they want a mobile device that is fully managed and secure, we believe the Cius is a better fit."

The Cius has the brains of a desktop video phone, in addition to being something you can carry around the office with you, and it aims to solve all the challenges of mobile device security and manageability that tend to give IT executives heart palpitations.

Because the Android operating system is open source, Cisco has been able to customize it, layering on security measures such as an encrypted file system, which means "everything that goes in or out of the device is encrypted by default," De La Mora said. "Android doesn't have the best reputation for security, so we had to fix that."

Cisco also operates its own AppHQ app store, featuring tablet applications it has validated as being enterprise-grade. By default, icons for both AppHQ and Google's broader Android Market are displayed on the Cius home screen, but an administrator can hide the Android Market and, if desired, create a "store within the store" on AppHQ featuring only the applications that particular company has approved for use.

Some mobile computing experts question whether an enterprise tablet can really compete with the desire of enterprise users to make a consumer tablet like the iPad part of their work life. Several IT publications have already ranked the Cius among the top 10 product failures of 2011, putting it in the same company with RIM's BlackBerry Playbook.

That's a little harsh.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.

About the Author(s)

David Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Healthcare and InformationWeek Government (columnist on social business)

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox
More Insights