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Considering the Cisco Cius: What Is Cisco Thinking?

What an interesting announcement of the Cisco Cius this week. All at once, Cisco enters the cellular phone market, enters the tablet computer market, introduces another mobile WiFi video device, and ups the ante for high-end business telephones. Sets one to wondering just what the goals might be for all of this and why Cisco chose to make their own device?

Right out of the box, reason #1, may be to drive video usage! Cisco qualifies as the world’s leading champion of video communications for years now, pretty much marked from their announcement of Cisco Telepresence in October 2006 (yes, almost 4 years ago). Since then, video has been a common thread in everything. Acquiring WebEx with video participation in on-line meetings. Acquiring Flip so everyone can record video of everything with simplicity. Acquiring Tandberg for the leading position in video conferencing systems and displays for rooms and desks. Adding video documentation (which is hard to cut and paste into documents) all over their websites. Featuring video-centric customer use cases such SunTrust on my panel at VoiceCon Orlando 2009 and a number of telemedicine case study examples including their own in-house employee clinics with remote physicians via video. Hard to argue that video usage is not a core theme.

And why not? Video drives bandwidth usage! And bandwidth growth drives network upgrades. Telepresence, Tandberg and Flip do plenty for the wired networks. Now Cius can pull video over the wireless networks, too. Imagine half a dozen Cius users walking through an office building having an on-line HD video conference; sort of moving 'bandwidth magnets'. Enterprises will have to decide how much of this they can afford, as outlined in "Putting Video in the UC Context for the Enterprise" in our June 16, 2010 UC eWeekly. UC applications and Use Cases should provide the guide.

Reason #2 would be to stimulate adoption and growth in Cisco Collaboration, Cisco's new brand that includes Unified Communications. Certainly, IP Telephony which led to Unified Communications, brought Cisco a major share of the new sales market in that industry, with a growing installed base. Well done, for sure, but Cisco is clearly looking to capture more user value than just telephony, as shown by the WebEx, PostPath, and Jabber acquisitions and the extension into collaboration products such as WebEx Connect and Cisco Quad. Cius comes pre-integrated with all of these products.

Yet, this one is a puzzle. History suggests that you can get more growth by partnering to leverage others’ successes in their categories than by competing with established category leaders. "Letting Go (of Phones) Is Hard To Do!" discusses the similarities to the evolution of the computer industry. If Cisco wants to grow adoption of those UC and Collaboration products, wouldn’t there be more impact if Cisco-branded applications were loaded or downloaded onto the millions of iPhones, smartphones, iPads and tablets already out there? Owners of those existing devices are unlikely to want to switch just because the “company” selected the Cisco device, which runs on a different carrier network (yet to be announced which). And IT teams who are already producing iPhone Apps won’t have much reason to switch to the Cisco development environment.

Reason #3 may be that cool devices in the video market will spark investor interest. Even with the acquisitions mentioned, Cisco stock prices have not significantly outperformed the NASDAQ nor other leaders in the IT category, which have been roughly flat for the past 5 years. Meanwhile, Apple stock has grown over 500% since this time in 2005; who wouldn’t want a bite of that? So, perhaps Flip could emulate iPods and Cius could emulate iPhones and iPads?

Good idea. It's always exciting to be part of an industry that's creating new wealth! But it's hard for the world's leading networking company to attract investors from the cool electronic device markets. Meanwhile, the tablet is likely a transitional product. It is really hard to imagine that this user interface form factor is the ultimate, when we already see much more private and personalized wearable devices coming into the market and coming down in price (but that's a different article).

So, with sincere best wishes to Cisco and thanks for their marvelous innovation skills, we'll have to watch how all this evolves. Certainly, there will be buzz. And we may see a number of Cius units showing up for trials in core Cisco accounts. The hope is that all this buzz stimulates growth in Unified Communications and Collaboration based on the business value, no matter which wireless tablet or phone is being used, rather than just adding one more confusion factor (whose tablet to buy?) and delaying decision processes.