In a telepresence session connected to reporters in several cities, Cisco executives introduced early Cius adopters in health care, education and communications. All of the customers said have deployed up to a few dozen of the 7-in. Cius tablets because they are intertwined with Cisco's respected IT management, security and collaboration features.
Part of the way Cisco is extending management benefits to Cius is through AppHQ, which is a combination of an app store and tablet management and app development system. AppHQ can become a company's app storefront to house the apps a business has approved for its workers. But AppHQ also extends controls to IT administrators over which applications can be downloaded by users.
Cisco's Cius tablet on its docking station.
Orlando Portale, CIO for Palmora Pomerado Health, said he has deployed the Cius to doctors to allow them to collaborate -- sometimes with video -- in secure ways not possible with other Android devices. "We have Android devices already and all are consumer, but [they] don't run over the VPN's we need," he said. "Cisco's value-add...is to lock down" the devices.
Kara Wilson, vice president of marketing for collaboration solutions at Cisco, made it clear what the Cius mission is all about. "Cius is about control,"she said. "Cius gives control back to IT."
That control will cost a company far more than the $750 street price for the tablet, Cisco officials acknowledged without offering precise numbers. Cius will run on a company's IP-PBX communications infrastructure that requires a secure wired LAN and secure Wi-Fi along with a PBX switch. The latest version of Cisco's communication manager software, version 8.5, will be required as well. Even a docking station with a traditional telephone desk handset will cost $400 each, said Chuck Fontana, director of product management for Cisco Cius.
Cisco also said it will offer "basic" access to AppHQ management capabilities within the price of each Cius device, but then will charge an extra amount, undetermined, for higher level functions.
Ken Dulaney, an analyst for Gartner, said the Cius tablet is "unique" among tablets because of all the Cisco-related communications functions. "You have to have the [communications management] system from the Cisco PBX group to manage the Cius," he noted, adding that many potential Cius customers already have such software in place.
The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet has been focused on business users more than any other tablet on the market so far, but Cisco executives said Cius will out-do Playbook because Cius will support videoconference calls over wired networks and Wi-Fi as well as enterprise-class phone calling. That means the Cius can easily connect to Webex collaboration and other functions.
"Cius is targeted as an extension of Cisco's unified communications capabilities and will appeal to certain classes of companies where compatibility and Cisco support for Voice over IP, videoconferencing and access to unified communications functions is important," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "Cisco is targeting its heartland users with this device. If we look at Cius from that perspective and not as a mass market competitor to the iPad , then Cisco can sell relatively few of these by iPad standards and still be quite successful."
Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group, said he wondered whether Cisco could fully support a robust developer community to provide business-related apps to be used by for the AppHQ storefront.
Fontana said Cisco will be able to foster such a developer community, partly because it will open the Application Programming Interfaces needed to work with Cisco collaboration software. Cisco will also set up a method for independent developers to offer their products inside of AppHQ for a share of the sales proceeds, Fontana said. The amount developers will receive has not been announced.
Verizon Communications has deployed the Cius to its collaboration sales teams and could sell some of the apps its internal developers build to Verizon's partners from inside the AppHQ, said Verizon's Chris Kemmerer, director of mobility solutions.
Larry Michalewicz, a Cisco developer, will help foster Android developer involvement with AppHQ because Cisco will take a "hands-on approach and show them that AppHQ gives them a small in-road to enterprise apps that they may not have.
Despite some earlier reports, the Cius will be released with Android 2.2 and will skip over the upgrade to Android 3.0 also known as Honeycomb, said Tom Puorro, senior director of product management for collaboration. Instead of Honeycomb, Cisco will wait for Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, which is a combined smartphone and tablet OS that Google plans to have ready this fall.
Puorro also said that both Verizon and AT&T will have 4G versions of the Cius sometime in the fall. The version coming on July 31 is Wi-Fi only; pricing for the 4G versions has not been announced.