The latest entrant in the increasingly crowded tablet computing field, Cisco’s Cius, is bulkier than the iPad, and has a smaller screen (7 inches diagonally, compared to the iPad’s 9.7). But it packs a number of tricks all of its own, designed to woo business users. The Cius is designed to integrate closely with Cisco’s voice and video phone systems, and it can even replace a desktop computer when docked to a new Cisco desk phone, which connects to a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
A Cius tablet makes a user’s desk number mobile, enabling people to make and receive voice and video calls anywhere, if their company has a Cisco phone system. The tablet features HD-quality cameras in front and in back and can be used with a Bluetooth headset for more private calling. The tablet can also be used as a desktop videoconferencing device when docked on a special desktop phone, and can smoothly switch between a Wi-Fi and cellular network connection.
That dock can also be plugged into a monitor keyboard and mouse to act like a desktop computer. “It can replace my desktop operating system,” says Tom Puorro, senior director for Cisco’s collaboration technologies.
The Cius runs Google’s Android mobile operating system, which is used on a rapidly growing number of smart phones and tablets as well. Android is open source, meaning it can be modified by anyone for free, yet so far most companies that have built gadgets running Android have tinkered with it little. The Cius, in contrast, features a radical reworking of Android.
This gives an IT department much greater control over what a Cius user can do. IT managers can shut down access to the Android app market to protect a company from malicious apps. Cisco has also created its own app store, AppHQ, that contains only apps deemed stable and secure by Cisco. Companies can even create their own app store within AppHQ and limit employees to certain applications, or apps built in house.
A Wi-Fi-only version of the tablet will be available worldwide from July 31 at an estimated price of $750. Cisco will sell it along with related services and infrastructure, so the cost to businesses will vary, and could be as low as $650. AT&T and Verizon will each offer versions for their 4G networks this fall.
A person can use the tablet’s own OS or Windows even via a virtual desktop that runs in the cloud, as Puorro demonstrated at a launch event held in San Jose today. The tablet’s powerful 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor allows desktop-like performance when hooked up to a keyboard, mouse and monitor. Although iPads are showing up in workplaces, they can’t offer the same integration with everyday tasks like phone calls, and are limited to e-mail, Web browsing and video, says Puorro.
Cisco worked with Google to get advice on its modifications to Android, says Puorro. These modifications enable Android to deal with video and operations like group calling and transferring calls, and make use of a dedicated chip in the tablet that encrypt all its data.
When designing an embedded system choosing which tools to use often comes down to building a custom solution or buying off-the-shelf tools.