When IT majors like HP are struggling to sell tablets, can Cisco succeed? The answer was obvious in the first five minutes of the exclusive Cius tablet demo at the Cisco Telepresence room in Mumbai. Firstly, the Cius, pronounced “See Us” does not compete with the likes of iPad and Galaxy, although it is an Android-based (Froyo) tablet. Cisco calls it an “Enterprise-class tablet” and it’s designed for video or visual communications (See us – get it?) Cisco wants you to believe that this is not an end-point solution – rather it is a “converged device”. Secondly, the tablet is designed for enterprise/business use, and largely depends on Wi-fi connectivity and a desktop dock/handset (sold separately) for extended connectivity. It also has enterprise-grade security features akin to what you get on a Blackberry device. Thirdly, Cius can act as thin client for desktop virtualization/VDI. Fourthly, Cius is a part of a “system” of collaboration tools; though it can be used as a standalone Android tablet, the real utility of the tablet comes when it is hooked up to the Cisco system of Telepresence, Unified Communications, IP Telephony, various collaboration applications and the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager) in the data center. That means you need to have a backend and all this IT infrastructure in place to fully appreciate the benefits of the Cius. So Cisco is really doing what Apple does best – selling not just a product but a complete system of intricately linked components that collectively offer a lot of possibilities. A Cisco spokesperson sums it up saying, “Cius does collaboration, communication and compute.”
CONNECTIVITY & DOCK
The Cius depends largely on Wi-Fi for connectivity and it supports IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n standards. Cisco says it will add 3G and 4G data service options in the near future.
So if you want to take your Cius tablet on the road, you’ll need to find a Wi-Fi hotspot. But remote connectivity should become easier next year — we have learnt that Cisco is working with service providers to make its visual communication services and IP Telephony available over their networks. So perhaps in a year’s time you can be on the road and still participate in a telepresence session or answer an IP call using a Cius tablet.
Let’s talk about connectivity options. The tablet itself has a Micro SD slot, Micro USB, and Micro HDMI. For extended connectivity place it in the HD Media Station — its desktop dock cum handset. The dock has ports for USB (3), Ethernet (up to 1000 Gbps), and HDMI. It also charges the tablet through its 29-pin connector. In addition, the dock has hi-grade audio speakers and also a 3.5 mm headset connector.
No discussion on tablet is complete with deliberating on the number of apps and the type of apps available for it. In this case we were obviously looking for enterprise-grade apps. Being an Andriod device, you have access to over 100,000 apps in the Andriod Market. But Cisco also offers its own store for enterprise applications, called Cisco AppHQ.
Since this is an enterprise device, security is a consequential concern. Through policies the administrator can lock access to Android apps or prevent downloading of specific categories of apps. Cisco claims there are more than 2,000 enterprise applications, and each of these has been tested and validated by an internal team at Cisco.
AppHQ looks similar to other Android app stores on the Web. But there is a distinguishing feature called AppHQ Manager, which allows companies to establish customized, branded storefronts, featuring a subset of its own AppHQ apps, for employees. That’s great for customizing and standardizing collaboration apps and enterprise apps.
VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS & COLLABORATION
They say 85 percent of communication is visual. But for truly immersive visual communications you need high definition. That’s why Cisco fitted two high definition 720p cameras (front and rear facing) into the Cius; it has native telepresence capability. We “immersed” ourselves in a telepresence session on giant LCD screens with the Cisco media team in Bangalore. That session was instantly relayed to the Cius tablet. What’s more, we could walk around the room and watch colleagues on the tablet in high-definition video. PowerPoint and whiteboarding (done remotely) can also be beamed across to the tablet (during a WebEx session). So you can move into a meeting room and continue your Webex or telepresence session.
Further, collaboration tools such as email (Cisco Inbox), Social Media (Cisco Quad), instant messaging and presence (Cisco Jabber) are also available on the Cius, as witnessed during the demo.
Mounted in its desktop dock, the tablet can also be used for multi-way audio conferencing (without video).
COMPUTE / VIRTUAL DESKTOP
The Cius has compute capability and offers desktop virtualization too. One could use the QuickOffice suite and save documents on the server. The Cisco spokesperson said it could be used as a desktop replacement, though I can’t image myself doing serious work on Spreadsheets on the tablet’s 7-inch screen; I’ll probably end up attaching a larger monitor to it. The compute power comes from an Intel Atom Z615 Processor (512-KB cache, 1.6 GHz). The device has 1GB RAM and no hard disk; it relies on its expandable 32-GB eMMC flash memory for storage.
The device also has enterprise enterprise-grade security features such as secure credential for storage, secure boot, image authentication and encryption, certificate management, network and wireless security, media and data security, an AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client, remote wipe, policy management features, and a hardware security foundation layer.