The secret meaning behind Cisco’s surprise Cius tablet launch

It wasn’t a trending topic on Twitter. I can’t imagine people lining up for it. But Cisco Systems‘ (NASDAQ: CSCO)entry into the tablet space may be the boldest IT industry move I’ve seen all year.

Cisco on Tuesday announced the Cius, a tablet that comes with a seven-inch touch screen and is powered by an Intel Atom processor running at 1.6GHz. According to CDN editor Paolo Del Nibletto, who covered the Cius launch today, it weighs just over 1.5 pounds and provides about eight hours of battery life. A high-def videocam and five megapixel digital camera complete the feature set. The marketing around the device was also clear: This was a business tablet for corporate users, not something to be slipped under the arm of someone dressed in a black turtleneck and a pair of blue jeans.

In an ordinary world, of course, Cisco would never issue such a device. This would be the territory of an HP (NYSE: HPQ), which has already released its own so-called slates which continue a long partnership with Microsoft as the software platform provider. If Cisco was at all interested in the tablet space, it would only be to help sell its networking and communications products. Indeed, Cisco mentioned in the Cius release that it would work well with WebEx and TelePresence.

You can read a couple of things into the Cius. It’s further proof that the longstanding alliance between Cisco and HP is at a deader-than-dead end. Whether HP has oriented its slate devices at business people or not, there’s no doubt that the Cius will emerge as a direct competitor. Cutting reseller ties in with HP in February was a kiss-off, but the Cius is a good firm slap in the face.

The Cius also suggests that Cisco may need help in making the business case for its high-end tools, which may still be out of reach for the average Canadian mid-market enterprise. There’s no point in creating a big lake if no one want to put their boat in it. The solution may be to create some really pretty boats with solid navigational features that will look good in the water. That’s the Cius play in a nutshell. It also suggests that the traditional boatmakers – the OEMs – are not or will not be doing enough to demonstrate the power of Cisco’s gear or its applications, such as Cisco Quad and Cisco Show.

It will be interesting to see how Cisco goes to market with the Cius. Whether people accept it as a “business” tablet or not, they would most likely be purchased by consumers. Those consumers will also probably expect the same level of functionality to play games or view movies as an iPad user, so the experience will have to be somewhat commensurate. A bigger problem will be how Cisco – a B2B company with next to no experience in creating an Apple-style buzz – will drive sales.

What may make the Cius successful, in the end, may be the IT departments who know and trust Cisco as a provider of secure and effective networking and communications gear. They may reject the idea of putting the iPad behind the corporate firewall today, but the Cius might have easier access. Every time Apple launches a popular device IT managers and users wind up in the same old arguments. With Cisco, they may finally be presented with a clean slate.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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