Will Cisco's Disappointments in the Consumer Segment Fuel Its Unified Communications Efforts?

Rob Enderle

I'm following a series of technologies that are coming to market to displace the aging PC concept. While Bill Gates and Steve Jobs clearly believe the rich PC, as a general use product, represents the best future, I'm no longer so sure. With Apple now being hit with Windows-like attacks and the clear realization that, from a security standpoint, it may be virtually impossible to protect any rich connected desktop client effectively, from an IT perspective, I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't time for a major change.


This isn't about changing from Windows to Apple or Linux. This is about rethinking the entire platform and designing it from the ground up so that the things you want to protect remain in more physically secure locations and nothing remains in the field that can't be instantly deleted or rendered inaccessible.


The Smartphone Model


With the smartphone, in a few weeks, you'll see the launch of a comprehensive security communications product that rivals RIM for ease of use, and is unmatched in terms of security, IT control, personalization, and capability for this class of device. For some time, we've had capabilities on smartphones that exceed what we had 10 years ago on laptop computers in terms of productivity and data access and this gap is closing incredibly fast.


But the issue with a smartphone is that physically it is both too small and too large. It is too small to be a useful computer for document creation, Web browsing or most forms. It is too large to be carried as a phone. This is why many BlackBerry and Treo users also carry smaller cell phones for calls.


But, ask yourself, short of video games, if you can open documents, create and show presentations, manage and create e-mail, search the Web, and even look at pictures and some video and can remain connected, do you truly need a laptop?


Connectivity: Google Gears


The offline part has been a killer problem and Google Apps, which might represent a future for an Office-like application, was crippled by it. However, Apps was recently followed by Gears which, in effect, turns your system into a server and allow Apps to run offline and locally, potentially syncing up to the host once reconnected. Granted, this part isn't cooked yet, but we already have slim applications that run locally on smartphones and, while you may lose some functionality when disconnected, you could continue to write and enjoy content as long as the application itself didn't require a connection.


This problem isn't just being worked on through unique online/offline offerings like Gears or slimmed-down cell phone applications, but through a soon to be released connectivity solution that would allow a device that makes a thin client look fat to seamlessly, with amazingly low bandwidth, connect to a full PC (or PC blade) anyplace in the world. Granted, there remain latency issues and we still have the disconnected problem but this, used in a thin client, could give you full PC power when you do have a connection to a fast enough wired or wireless network.


The Promise of Foleo


You shouldn't look at Foleo as a done product. It isn't. Much like the first Palm Pilot, smartphone, or PC, this is the beginning of what could be a major change. Palm doesn't have all of the parts, many are being created by others, some of whom are Palm partners, and some Palm likely doesn't even know about yet.


As cool as it looks, the Foleo is only the beginning. We are at the forefront of a major change, one that could make obsolete the PC as we know it, make products like the iPhone, as a class, look foolish in hindsight, and could provide us with a level of security, reliability, and portability we have only seen in science fiction.


I'll talk about the parts as the NDAs that now surround me are lifted. Until then, the Foleo is a sign of things to come, and together, those things could create something truly amazing.

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