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Keep An Eye On Cius

Back in June, Cisco's John Chambers announced development of Cisco's own tablet PC, the Cius. There was a lot of initial head scratching and a fair amount of "uh... what is Cisco doing now?" reaction, but then the idea took seed and gained traction in the media. Cisco VP Barry O'Sullivan told Forbes how the Cius could replace mobile and desktop phones--and even desktop computers--in the business setting. Bloggers blogged, and Cius's mystique continued to build. But, that was then, when the product was projected for a Q4 2010 release.

Q4 2010 is here, and it's worth dusting off our collective expectations of Cisco's strange new product in anticipation of its pending drop. Even if the release date slips into 2011, Cius should be kept in mind for a number of reasons. As Cisco's first foray into this sort of platform, it's not hard to wonder if there will eventually be a lineage of tablets and handhelds from the networking giant, or if the Cius will be a one-hit wonder. That thought leads to another: will the Cius be compelling enough in feature set and wow factor that O'Sullivan's prophecy for productivity domination has a chance of materializing? And will the rumored $1K ballpark price include the sexy accessories that will add to Cius's competitive differentiators? Sure, we're all in wait-and-see mode, but let's remind ourselves what Cius promises that other tablets can't.

First and foremost, Cius is aimed at business users. This should negate some of the natural impulse to draw iPad comparisons. At the same time, those comparisons will be made, so here's some fuel for the fire: Cius is built on Google's Android OS, and the ability to leverage the Android developer community is claimed as a selling point. The battery in Cius is replaceable, which may sound like a little thing, but the first time you have to deal with replacing an integrated battery you will see why this fact is noteworthy. Connectivity will not be limited to the standard WiFi and 3G/4G tablet offerings, but will include Gigabit Ethernet when docked in the optional HD media station. Now, rather than regurgitate spec sheets, let's get back to the business aspects of Cius.

Cisco's TelePresence solution has certainly helped shrink the business world, and Cius will play in the TelePresence framework with its HD video capabilities. A raft of voice and collaboration applications will dovetail into everything else that is current in Cisco's personal communications stable, including WebEx, messaging, e-mail and Unified Communications. Collaboration APIs will be linked to a software developer's kit, and given the openness of the Android OS, the sky may be the limit in what can be developed--if Cius is well-received. To O'Sullivan's point about Cius's potential, the tablet can be a thin client, getting its OS from the cloud while it's docked, or it can step out as a full-featured portable office when afield. For the mobile employee, Cius may truly end up being the best of all worlds if it can live up to pre-release hype. 

So far, another big question remains regarding whom Cisco will partner with for wireless service. Speculation is that Sprint or Verizon are better candidates than AT&T for several reasons, but until an announcement is made, I'd be hesitant to make bets. Regardless of which carrier gets the prize, Cius is a device to keep an eye on.