Cisco Announces Internal App Store For Cius
Cisco seems to be stuck on the idea that you can "add mobility to UC". The truth of the matter is mobility is a lot bigger market than UC, and one with its own ecosystems, issues and imperatives.
In a combined Live/Web conference today, Cisco announced an application distribution system for their Cius tablet, called AppHQ. It will be supported by a second product called AppHQ Manager, which will let IT managers allow or deny access to application marketplaces by user role or device and to grant or deny access to applications by type, source or category. While they didn’t use the term "mobile device management system", that along with the ability to manage policies on a network of Cius tablets and do functions like remote wipe seems to indicate that's what they're up to.
While Tom Puorro, Sr. Director, Product Management at Cisco described AppHQ as the "first enterprise grade app store", mobile device management products like those from MobileIron, Zenprise, and AirWatch have included these sorts of capabilities (and then some) in their products for years. What's more, unlike AppHQ, which supports the Cisco Cius exclusively, those solutions support other Android devices, iPads, iPhones, and even BlackBerry devices. Some of those will also query the device to determine what applications are on it, the versions, and alert the user if an updated version is available.
Despite that, Cisco provided a cool demo of the Cius, which is developing nicely as an enterprise-grade tablet device that integrates smoothly with Cisco Unified Call Manager and their other UC&C and social networking products like WebEx and Quad.
Unlike other tablet devices (e.g. iPad, PlayBook, Galaxy, Xoom, etc.) that are designed as stand alone products (or "smartphone adjuncts" in the PlayBook's case), Cisco seems to be following Avaya's track in positioning the Cius as an enhanced desk phone. Key to the Cius configuration is the desktop base station with built-in handset and speakerphone. When docked, the Cius (with all of its inherent touch screen functions) acts as the user interface as well as a mini telepresence station on the desk phone. However, it allows you to grab-it-and-go., and will transition from the wired connection to Wi-Fi seamlessly, even with a call (or video) in progress.
The Jabber mobile UC client looks clean and functional and uses all of the touch screen functions of the tablet for navigation; that's true in the docked and undocked modes. You can touch a buddy's image on the screen and then call, IM, email, video, or WebEx them with a second tap on the window that pops up. It's not the Avaya "Flare Experience", but a nice functional interface nonetheless.
They also seem to have covered the basics with regard to mobile device security, and incorporated Cisco VPN technology for remote access from public hot spots (very important). While it was unclear and nobody who was present seemed to recognize the importance, they may have actually addressed one of the main security shortcomings of Android 2.x:
One of the reasons we do not recommend Android for enterprise use is that it lacks the ability to do onboard encryption, which is a major issue in the mobile arena where lost and stolen devices are an ongoing concern. In any event, the description alluded to "hardware accelerated encryption", which would indeed be significant if it were included. There are other third-party vendors working on Android encryption, so if Cisco's got it, they won't be the only ones for long.
The current wireless implementation is Wi-Fi only, and they do support 802.11a/b/g and n, and most importantly n in the 5 GHz band. Avaya's Flare does 802.11b/g/ and n, which means it doesn’t have a 5 GHz radio so you could only use n in 2.4 GHz. The problem is enterprise 802.11n deployments are almost universally in 5 GHz, so the Flare is essentially 802.11g, a 5+ year old wireless technology.
Verizon and AT&T have both announced the intention to introduce 3G/4G versions of the Cius in the fall of this year; Verizon Wireless also participated in the presentation as one of the trial customers for the Cius. Chetan Sharma of Chetan Sharma Consulting estimates that 85% of iPads sold are the Wi-Fi only models, but with Cius's enterprise focus, the continuous access required for using it while at customer or partner sites might result in greater success for a 3G/4G model. There were no pricing details for the 3G/4G model nor any guidance as to whether Cisco and their partners would sell it or if it would be distributed through the mobile operators, possibly subsidized with a contract data plan.
The Cius (Wi-Fi version) will be globally available July 31, but I'm not sure Cisco gets this mobility thing. On one hand, I think the grab-it-and-go model for a tablet is dead on. For smartphones, the docking station idea is stupid because you're too likely to leave without it, and you don't want to be without your smartphone. However, tying a tablet to a desk set might be hitching your wagon to a dead horse. The life expectancy in desk phones is a decade, but with mobile devices six-months is "middle age" and two-years is "geriatric". Is the next model of the Cius going to fit in the same base?
Having an internal app store is a plus, but having one that only supports one model device will knock it off the evaluation list when we're shopping for mobile management solutions. Cisco seems to be stuck on the idea that you can "add mobility to UC". That's a nice thought (one shared by other IP PBX and UC vendors as well), but the truth of the matter is mobility is a lot bigger market than UC, and one with its own ecosystems, issues and imperatives. They may find they've mistaken the tail for the dog.