Cisco

Cisco unveils an Android tablet ... that plugs into a desk phone?

Lots of companies have been rumored to be working on Android tablets this spring in the the wake of the iPad launch, but Cisco became the first to announce an enterprise tablet on Tuesday.

Lots of companies have been rumored to be working on Android tablets this spring in the the wake of the iPad launch, but Cisco became the first big player to officially announce an enterprise Android tablet on Tuesday.

The product is called the Cisco Cius (as in "see us") and it offers a much different take on the tablet than either the iPad or the Tablet PCs that we saw from Microsoft and its hardware partners in the past decade. Cisco has very little experience or expertise building consumer electronics or computing devices, so this is uncharted territory. And, judging by the design of Cius, it shows.

As you can see in the photo below of the Cius in its desk phone docking station, Cisco has built the product to be a companion to its enterprise VoIP, video, and collaboration services.

Contacts-based UI

The Cius is a 7-inch touchscreen tablet like the iPad, but that's where the similarities end. Cisco describes it as "a lightweight portable business computing tablet offered with an optional HD audio station equipped with a telephone handset speakerphone, HD DisplayPort and USB ports."

Cisco senior vice president Tony Bates said, "Cisco Cius epitomizes how the network is changing the way we live, work, learn and play. This platform can transform how healthcare professionals advance patient care; how retailers deliver service experiences to consumers, or how universities deliver world-class education to their students. Best of all, Cisco Cius offers IT functions a way to dramatically lower the cost-per-user of provisioning those new experiences."

While the device is powered by the Android OS, Cisco envisions workers using the tablet in a virtual desktop environment in the enterprise. Cisco has developed its own custom user interface (see below) that is built around communication with the contacts in your corporate directory via voice calling, video calling, instant messaging, and online meetings.

What's inside

Here are some of details and technical specs of the Cius:

  • Supports Cisco enterprise collaboration technologies: Cisco WebEx Connect, Cisco WebEx Meeting Center, Cisco Presence, Cisco Quad (enterprise collaboration), and Cisco Show and Share
  • Software will include "email, messaging, [Web] browsing, and the ability to produce, edit and share content stored locally or centrally in the cloud," according to Cisco
  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi; 3G cellular services; 4G services available in future; Bluetooth; Micro-USB
  • Built in Cisco AnyConnect VPN
  • Front-facing camera does 720p HD video at up to 30 frames per second
  • 5MP rear-facing camera transmits streaming VGA video and captures still images
  • Full Cisco telepresence interoperability, as well as HD video streaming and multi-party conferencing
  • Eight hours of battery life; removable battery
  • Accelerometer for viewing in landscape or portrait mode
  • Customer trials of Cius begin in Q3 2010; general availability in Q1 2011

Sanity check

There are several aspects of the Cisco Cius that leave me scratching my head.

First and foremost, I'm not sure why would Cisco want to build its enterprise tablet around the concept of mobile video conferencing. The most compelling aspect of mobile video conferencing is for a traveler who wants to connect and share something with a significant other. For day-to-day work, video calling just isn't something most workers want and need.

And, while Cisco telepresence is a terrific feature for reducing corporate travel and enhancing dispersed meetings, it's really only useful from conference room to conference room. Adding in mobile users could actually interfere with the experience.

The other thing that confuses me is why Cisco built the UI around contact apps rather than productivity apps. If Cisco really intends for this to be a PC replacement (which is what the company is touting) then it needs to be about getting work done.

The only types of workers who could benefit from the contacts-based experience are the ones who spend their whole day in meetings, such as project managers and middle managers (and mostly ones who have to regularly collaborate with people in other offices). And, even those have to be able to update planning documents, spreadsheets, and Gantt charts. Can they do it efficiently on this device? I'm not convinced.

That said, there's one aspect of the Cius that could make it very appealing in the enterprise. The always-on connectivity of 3G (and eventually 4G) mobile data services combined with Cisco's built-in VPN software and a virtual desktop infrastructure could provide highly mobile (desk-less) workers with an instant-on device that has secure connectivity to all of their corporate apps and data from virtually anywhere.

For instant analysis of tech news, follow my Twitter feed: @jasonhiner

Take the poll

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

32 comments
harold.bailey
harold.bailey

Ok, Phone looks cool, however I need to know who the gentleman is in the third picture on the right, He is almost a duplicate of me several years ago (less gray). Please have him contact me please at armyofhelaman2008@gmail.com Thanks

gunars.lodzins
gunars.lodzins

If it is going to cost like all Cisco proprietary hardware I'm afraid it will be used sparsely. Cisco phone with colour display and it's support ain't cheap if you considre global company with say 50 000 users. And "integratd with cisco colaboration tools" - we're talking not only hardware and it's support here, it will require also licencing rest asured.

jim.aimone
jim.aimone

"..make it very appealing in the enterprise. The always-on connectivity of 3G (and eventually 4G) mobile data services combined with Cisco?s built-in VPN software and a virtual desktop infrastructure " Why would they have 3G always-on when WiFi (802.11n) is available on premise. 3 and or 4G may very well need a boost (FemtoCell) to allow connectivity throughout an Enterprise.

yobtaf
yobtaf

Are they cool or what?

iowanews1
iowanews1

When it comes to video conferencing, Jason forgets that most vid conferences are done by people in their office, at their desk. So this would allow for more multitasking during meetings if you do the video conference on your desktop. IT security heads would love something that gets people off of external conferencing into a walled-off environ like Cisco's.

mbaumli
mbaumli

Can I get it in a larger form factor, running IOS?

IT.vgomez
IT.vgomez

Well from what i am seeing so far it pretty nice. Am always on some type of meeting so it works out for me. I'll if i give a chance next year....

arellias
arellias

While I think this will happen in the enterprise, mostly due to executives liking their new toys, I wonder how it will be secured? While it is docked to a VOIP base station and tied to a workstation, I can see it open for use, but once it walks off to a board room, what is to say it stays open for access?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It looks like this device would be nearly useless without the supporting Cisco infrastructure. I could be reading the article wrong but if that's the case, will companies be willing to invest in the 'back room' stuff needed to get the full benefit of this device?

Brad
Brad

Hi Jason, Perhaps the Cius was the reason Cisco's stock price dropped -3.57% today. Also simultaneously today, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revealed in a Form 8-K filing that Cisco insiders - Randy Pond, Mark Chandler and Larry Carter were planning to sell 1,575,266 shares of Cisco stock (currently valued at $34 million). Sincerely, Brad Reese

b4real
b4real

This to me is the best integrated gizmo for the enterprise. I'm excited for it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

or you'll be contacted by every mortgage refinancer, V!agra salesman, and Nigerian retired banker's widow in the world.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That 'always on connectivity' ain't free like internal 802.11.

JCitizen
JCitizen

a snarky reference to the "Google guys"; I agree! (@)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

From what I've seen, most video conferences don't really need to be VIDEO conferences. While I realize seeing the other participants can be useful, few video conferences seem to feature anything else. If all one is seeing from the other end is talking heads, a voice-only conference would work just as well. The other participants couldn't tell you were multitasking, something some meeting organizers find annoying. If there are relevant graphics or other presentations, there are already plenty of secure tools to deliver that content to 'traditional' desktop or laptop client with a larger screen and without straining the budget with new devices.

XnavyDK
XnavyDK

the izombies are about

yobtaf
yobtaf

I couldn't resist.

Craig_B
Craig_B

Cisco wants you to buy into the Cisco world (just like most other vendors that want to keep you in there world). I can see the usefulness if you are a Cisco VOIP shop and have already made that investment however if you have a mixed bag or use another vendor then forget it.

dnctopjob
dnctopjob

The entire market dropped 2.6% and you think this device made Cisco's stock drop?

JCitizen
JCitizen

rats jumping a burning ship! HA!

option12
option12

I have literally been trying to find this device for the last 6 months. I am a cisco call center customer, and we have a large set of managers who spend large parts of their days away from their desks. We wanted a non-cell based solution for both voice and email, and this looks like a good fit to me. The best part is that my attempts at making this work were via sipdroid on android anyway. The iphone was no good for this, and neither was windows mobile.

noah44444
noah44444

Live two way video is needed in situations like telemedicine where the doctor needs to see the patient's face or an area of their body. Also if you are interviewing a potential employee halfway around the planet you would also want to see their facial expressions during your first interview with them before perhaps flying them over for an in person. I have installed dozens of Polycom cameras and video conferencing software on laptops (the Polycom PVX client runs with Windows and most webcams). Aside from great picture and audio quality, the two features that sold me on Polycom the most was the ability to share the sites existing broadband internet connection (DSL, T1, or whatever) and the ability for the camera to do its own encryption versus needing to establish a VPN or leased line between the sites. When we investigated the Cisco video conferencing cameras they did not offer a way to call through the open internet, each call routed back to their call center versus using a public IP address and I was told the Cisco cameras did not support the AES encryption on their own like the Polycoms and Tandbergs do.

rarsa
rarsa

Video conferences help putting a face on remote team members. That creates familiarity, helps communicate intent and emotions and creates a sense of co-location.

JCitizen
JCitizen

what the load would do to the LAN/WAN with all that HD streaming going on; but then everyone is going to optical networking - right? One may have to go to Cisco devices just to carry the thoughput any way. I've found most routing a switching claims from other vendors, do vaporize once the load hits.

silverarrow27
silverarrow27

I agree with you. According to my Council here; they would like video conferencing to see the physical feedback from their lawyers, sponsors, and politicians. It's not so much that they don't need it, they want to see the physical reaction of the person on the otherside as well as their tone of voice to get a better feel of the situation at hand. They're also the only ones here that uses video conferencing. As for the Cisco tablet, I don't seem to like it considering one would have to purchase the "back-room" stuff to make it work and the article mentions 3g and 4g access, who are the wireless providers?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Does Apple know you're boosting Cisco too? Isn't that like the old 'wives and girlfriends' joke?

JCitizen
JCitizen

is always a loosing proposition for business. Bad enough that Microsoft is trying to make its software proprietary in the enterprise. Of course, I have to admit, that at my last contract, our whole network was Cisco, and we did rather well with that. Even then, it was LinkSys that made some of the infrastructure affordable.

noah44444
noah44444

I agree about the infrastructure part. These Cisco communication devices really need to be able to play nicely with standard routers/firewalls/switches using standards like H.323 or SIP rather than invent their own proprietary standards. I would imagine they would also offer a more affordable model with just audio for the staff who don't require it. The Polycom PVX H.323 calling client I referred to works with almost all flavors of webcams, from the cheap built-in ones that are becoming common on laptops to the higher end USB models that have come a long way in recent years. The Polycom PVX can also place calls using as low as 128 Kbps so you don't need a T1 or fiber cable just to place a call. The Polycom HDX series with the zoomable optic and HD sensor is far superior to any webcam but from my experience the patient does not really need to see the doctor in high def so much as the doctor needs to see the patient they are examining in high def. Since the PVX client typically worked with the docs existing Windows laptop or desktop it was ideal for them as it did not take up any extra room in the docs small office. They could also stay in touch with patients who had chronic issues while on the road from their laptop offering mobility. The doc could dial back into his clinic's Polycom HDX exam camera and see the patient in high quality from his laptop running the PVX software. In addition to medical consults and employee interviews, I have also seen live two way video utilized by law firms etc for long distance face to face communications and also for distance education where the instructor requires a view of the students who are attending like in speech or language courses. I do agree the screen size of 7" is just ridiculously small for most of these applications and a 14" or 15" with at least a resolution of 1024x768 would be the minimum I would recommend for telemedicine consults or distance education.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

between a Polycom app and a cheap webcam installed on a standard Windows client, and dropping a proprietary Cisco solution on everyone's desktop. Medical and interviews are niche apps. Unless you're supporting a medical or placement firm, not enough employees are going to need one of these to make the necessary Cisco infrastructure justifiable. I suspect a doctor is going to want as large a screen and as high a resolution as possible at his end, not what's provided by this device. Even in a medical outfit, I betting the number of physicians is much smaller than the number of support personnel who don't need video capability. There are niche apps that need full-time video, just like there are that need full-time tablets. This doesn't look to me like a preferred solution for them.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

and especially during 'kick off' meetings. But does every meeting have to be a video? Does putting a face to a name justify the expenditure of the equipment under discussion? If someone calls me while I'm eating lunch, I'd like to take the call without the other party seeing me slurp spaghetti between comments.

Editor's Picks