Avaya's new portable isn't a tablet, it's a 'desktop video device'

The real focus should be on the Flare user interface, Avaya says

Avaya had barely announced its new portable video device on Wednesday when just about everybody started calling it the Flare Tablet.

Actually, it's officially a "desktop video device" -- a moniker that didn't impress Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala. "For such a cool device, I'm not sure Avaya could have found a name that was more lame than that," he said in a blog post.

Avaya isn't terribly concerned by the nomenclature debate, according to a spokeswoman. That's because calling the 11.6-in. touchscreen device the "Flare" puts the focus on the user interface, which is just what Avaya wants. (That interface, by the way, is formally known as the Avaya Flare Experience.)

Why emphasize the interface? To "give the form factor a back seat," the spokeswoman explained.

Avaya Flare videoconferencing device
The Avaya Desktop Video Device runs the company's Flare interface. (Photo courtesy of Avaya Inc.)

The Flare interface allows users to swipe through contacts and launch a videoconference, IM session or audio conference in the center of the screen in just seconds. All of those functions are enabled through Avaya's use of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Avaya Aura 6.0 software, which was announced in July.

Using that Aura back end yields a device that uses 50% less bandwidth to handle videoconferencing at an acquisition cost that's one-third of the cost of competing systems from Cisco Tandberg, Polycom and others, said Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy.

Comparisons of the new 3.4-lb. Avaya device, which runs Android 2.1, to Cisco's upcoming Cius tablet and even to Apple's iPad are already being made. The biggest distinction might be price. The Avaya device will sell for around $2,000 when it ships in late October or November, and the Cius (with a 7-inch screen) will sell for perhaps half as much when it becomes available next year, according to various analysts.

Of the three, the iPad costs the least: $499. But it has a smaller screen, at 9.7 inches, than Avaya's offering.

"Avaya... does not want to get into comparisons with other tablets such as the iPad or HP's tablet," Kerravala said.

"In my opinion, [the Flare] is a tablet -- not one geared to the prosumer, but still it looks like one and acts like one," he added. "Avaya was very clear... that they are not positioning this device as a tablet, but as a video communications device."

"It's not intended to be compared to a multimedia e-reader iPad device," Avaya spokeswoman Deb Kline said in an interview.

If it's not iPad-like, how it would function in an office environment -- where people already have desk phones and desktop computers -- isn't completely clear. Kerravala doesn't think it would replace anything on a worker's desk, where it would serve mainly as a dedicated video device or possibly as a conference phone. "The laptop or desktop will still be the main device used to create information," Kerravala said.

In contrast, some companies are already embracing the cheaper iPad as a laptop replacement, although they don't expect it to last as long as most laptops.

Kline agreed that the Avaya device is "not a PC replacement," although she said when Avaya builds in support for VPNs, Flare users might want to take their devices home and use them there -- perhaps along with a keyboard connected via Bluetooth.

For now, the usage model for the Flare is fairly clearly the "desktop," as Avaya's description of the device implies. Adding to the confusion is how Avaya intends to extend the Flare user experience to all kinds of devices in 2011, including smartphones and the iPad.

Alan Baratz, president of global communications at Avaya, demonstrated the Flare yesterday and even showed how its user interface could be extended to other devices. He held up what appeared to an iPad on stage and showed the Flare interface running on it.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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