Cisco announced its own tablet computer last week and put folks on notice that it is aggressively going down the convergence path. While little is yet known about the device, I think we can connect the dots and suggest that this might be the first major attempt this century to dethrone HP, IBM, Dell and Microsoft with a line of new-generation, cloud-based converged personal computers. Let's talk about the Cisco Cius Tablet.
PC: What's Changed?
The PC at first was largely a disconnected device and, even when it was connected, it was either as a terminal or over a modem and not truly networked. It wasn't portable, weighing in at more than 20 pounds and could only be used when in close proximity to an electrical outlet. Servers were mostly mainframes or mid-range computers with capabilities that were actually exceeded by most PCs' and storage media could hold less than a megabyte. Phones and computers, while sometimes linked for data services, were largely separate devices that didn't talk to each other.
These days, it's hard to find an MP3 player with less than 8 gigabytes of capacity, we have high-speed data connections, servers can do as much as desktop computers and laptops not only can be used away from power outlets, they are being supplemented with tablets that are even more portable, with the Apple iPad the poster child. We have been using smartphones for some time -- a blend of telephony and personal computing capabilities.
However, with all of these changes, no one has really gone back and begun to rethink the PC, which remains tied more to its past than to its vastly changed present. Cisco, evidently, has decided to change that.
Cisco Cius Tablet
It starts off being more a blend of a PC and a phone than the iPhone or iPad is. The iPhone has phone capability, but with a 3.5-inch screen is very limited when it comes to personal computer-like features. The iPad is very computer-like, but has no phone features. The Cisco tablet has both. It ties back into Cisco's VOIP telephone service and has both Wi-Fie and 3G (eventually 4G) radios, so it can work both inside as the primary business phone and outside while the employee is traveling.
Integration of all communications functions seems natural with a blending of voice mail, e-mail, approved social networking and converged management of all of this. Clearly this would be a front end for most software-as-a-service types of products and, like most tablets, would be ideal for forms-based data entry particularly while mobile.
Smaller and lighter than the iPad, this product is potentially better for reading corporate communications, visiting corporate websites and managing projects. This should be one of the first products to link video communications across Cisco's services, allow people to call in to telepresence meetings and show live feeds from wherever they are.
Changing the Game
The Cius uses the Android platform, and Google is effectively using Cisco much as Microsoft used IBM as an initial entry into business. Cisco is balancing Google initially by controlling the application store available on the device in an attempt to keep from being subordinated to Google as IBM was to Microsoft with DOS and Windows. It appears Cisco is attempting to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Cisco is a heavy user of Apple products and appears to be driving its device with an Apple-like ease of use and hardware design. Initial designs have it closer to the phone and likely more as a companion to a desktop PC in use, however, this will likely change as the device matures and more capabilities merge into the product. It seems doubtful many will want to have both a laptop and a Cius, suggesting this could initially drive a desktop PC resurgence, placing the tablet solidly in the PC support role initially.
Wrapping Up: Timing
This is a big move from Cisco toward a network-centric portable personal computer. You see, the truly big change, the one the PC vendors and Microsoft might not really see yet, is that we went from being driven by processing power to being driven by communications and bandwidth some time ago. This is the first big attempt to reset the PC to this changed world. Changes like this are typically measured in years and the clock doesn't really start until people start using the solution. But once started, it will move at Internet speeds, suggesting a collapsed gestation period of 2 to 5 years after launch, depending on how many initial mistakes are repeated. This is new area for both Cisco and Google. Companies in general, and Google in particular, though, seem to like to learn from experience rather than from others, which could lengthen the maturation of Cius.
But make no mistake, Cisco is making a huge play here to change the way we communicate with a more converged platform. If it succeeds -- and that is far from certain -- the landscape will be dramatically changed in terms of dominant vendors and solutions by year end.