Cisco Cius and AppHQ: Could this be the business tablet that works?

Many tech followers are already questioning whether or not the enterprise-grade Cisco Cius tablet has what it takes to be a success.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Cisco Systems trotted out its Cius tablet again on Wednesday with a new application ecosystem dubbed AppHQ. But already, many tech followers are already questioning whether or not this enterprise-grade tablet has what it takes to be a success.

When one hears the terms business or enterprise when advertising a tablet, it's easy to think of tablets that fell by the wayside, such as the HP Slate and, even more so, the BlackBerry PlayBook.

It doesn't help Cisco that the Cius already looks like the PlayBook at first glance. They both feel about the same when being held in one's hand - a bit bulkier but still smaller than the shiny and sleek iPad 2 and even the Galaxy Tab (at least the 8.9- and 10-inch variants). Even HP's TouchPad (which is likely the tablet of the town this week), feels a bit fancier and more modern than the Cius.

The Cius does have a few advantages over the PlayBook and even the Slate. First, in comparison to RIM's tablet, the Cius has a native email app that supports IMAP, POP, Exchange and multiple email accounts (both personal and business-related) at one time.

Tom Puorro, senior director of product management in Cisco's Collaboration Solutions department, noted during Wednesday's media event/telecast that customers often ask "Do I have access to email or web browsing?" Puorro answered his own question by stating, "It's much more than that."

Well, actually is it? Given how much flack RIM took when releasing the PlayBook without a native email app, it's arguable that a manufacturer can't release a tablet without such software.

Although Cisco is obviously focused on its own software suite embedded within Android 2.2 on the Cius (more on that below), it's these little things like email support that most customers, whether they be the average consumer or an enterprise client, care about at the end of the day.

Touching back on some of the strengths of the Cius, Cisco is tapping into its existing successful projects such as WebEx and TelePresence as advertising points. The Cius also appears to work seamlessly with a telephone docking station and double as a virtual desktop. Cisco reps joked that one could leave their Windows-based PC far away "where it belongs" in Alaska and still reach it from anywhere else in the world.

Furthermore, Cisco has introduced AppHQ, a very unique new app platform that Cisco reps argue brings power back to the hands of IT managers. There are plenty of companies that are handing out and using iPads and other tablets for work purposes. But the qualms here are mainly security-related as IT administrators have far less control about what can be downloaded, installed, etc. to these machines, putting these tablets more at risk.

AppHQ can be configured by IT departments and made available to employees in three ways:

  • An open portal to the full Android Market
  • Basic Cisco AppHQ with a mixture of Android apps and Cisco-validated business applications
  • Privatized Cisco AppHQ with only IT-selected apps

IT managers can also wipe individual apps from an individual Cius unit remotely, or wipe the entire device clean. The latter can be used in a variety of situations, including theft/loss of the device or if the employee is leaving the company. For enterprises, this system could actually prove to be incredibly useful and fulfill a void that other tablets can't as most of the popular ones on the market today are simply consumer-grade and have no need for this set-up.

However, the price could make or break this device, depending on your perspective. There aren't any official numbers as of late, although the first shipments have already gone out to those ordered since March.

For the consumer, who again is not the target audience for this device by any means, roughly $750 for a Wi-Fi-tablet is ludicrous. That price drops per unit to approximately $650 to $750 depending on the volume of units in a particular order.

3G/4G-enabled editions of the Cius are expected to roll out with AT&T and Verizon later this year, but Cisco reps didn't reveal any hints as to pricing there.

For large enterprises and even smaller ones with a lot of cash to spend who could use more advanced teleconferencing and collaborative tools, then those prices could very easily be justified. People who already use Cisco products will probably actually love this device given how much of Cisco's software is integrated throughout the user interface, but there is also room for personal usage (if the IT department permits it).

Otherwise, it's hard to see the Cius being successful on a wide spectrum, but it doesn't even look like Cisco reps are aiming for that anyway.


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