Cius: What it means to Cisco and users

A business tablet, not an iPad competitor, from a company launching hundreds of products a year

LAS VEGAS -- The Cisco Cius tablet introduced on Tuesday is many things, including a business videoconferencing tool. But top Cisco executives declared openly this week that it's not a competitor to Apple's iPad.

Most important, Cius is yet another physical representation of how far Cisco's technology can reach.

The traditional routing and switching vendor launched more than 400 products last year, ranging from large servers to power data centers to new versions of the Flip handheld videocamera.

CEO John Chambers told some 20,000 virtual and physical attendees at Cisco Live! here this week that Cisco's annual R&D budget currenty stands at $5.2 billion, or about 13% of total revenue. Many technology vendors are pressed to exceed 10% in R&D spending, he noted.

"We are going where no company has gone before," Chambers said in comments to a group of 12 reporters. "I don't think any technology company in history has played across this broad array of products."

He admitted, however, that because of the diversity Cisco hardware, software and ASIC products, the company's brand has become somewhat obscure and hard to pin down. When asked, Chambers said Cisco has evolved from a "network plumber" to an "innovator."

Cius could extend the concerns that Cisco is spreading its business too far.

The name alone annoyed some analysts who wondered how Cisco could possibly have derived it. It turns out that the name is a play on the first two letters in "Cisco" combined with "us" as in "See Us," a reference to Cisco's emphasis on videoconferencing technology, said Barry O'Sullivan, Cisco's senior vice president of voice technology, who oversaw development of the device over the past 18 months. Cius was also an ancient city in Greece, O'Sullivan noted.

Chambers was careful to note that the Cius concept falls into Cisco's plan launched a decade ago to combine voice and data communications on networks over a common Internet Protocol architecture. "If a picture is worth a thousand words, then video is worth a million words," Chambers said in describing the video network sharing capabilities at the heart of the Cius, and much of the future of Cisco.

It remains unclear whether the new Cisco tablet, aimed initially at enterprise users, can eventually become a consumer product. "That hasn't been a point of focus," Chambers said.

In a related vein, Chambers emphatically told reporters that Cisco has no plans to build a smartphone, indicating that there is a limit to the broad range of technologies that Cisco will produce. "No, it's very unlikely," Chambers said about possibly building a smartphone.

Cisco instead wants to focus on interoperability with other products, Chambers said. "We want every industry standard to interface," he said. "We just want interoperability. We come out of the Internet and that means interoperability. We think in terms of openness."

When asked about comparisons of Cius to the iPad, Chambers was clear. "Cius is all about collaboration and telepresence," he said. "It's a business tablet. I use the iPad and love it. I love anything that loves networks. We do a lot with Apple and they are a great customer and good partner. I think of Cius as a business tablet, so [Cius and iPad] are complementary products with different target markets."

Several analysts agreed.

"I don't think it's a direct consumer product competitor to the iPad and that's a good thing for Cisco," said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group. "If Cius were to compete directly with iPad, Cisco's version 1 product would be competing against the version 2 iPad due next year. As strong as Cisco may be with businesses, I doubt Cisco would have the market power to succeed against Apple with consumers."

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

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