Cisco's Cius business tablet to ship in March

Cisco is building virtualization and collaboration capabilities into the Cius business tablet

Cisco Systems on Monday said its Cius tablet, which is targeted at businesses, will become generally available starting in March.

The device's price has not yet been determined, but the company wants to drive the price as far under US$1,000 as possible, said Barry O'Sullivan, senior vice president of the voice technology group at Cisco.

The Cius tablet was originally announced by Cisco in June as a mobile device designed to help users run business applications and communicate in real time. The tablet runs on Google's Android 2.2 OS, features a 7-inch touchscreen and is powered by an Intel Atom processor running at 1.6GHz. It weighs just over 1.5 pounds (680 grams) and provides around eight hours of battery life.

Cius is a "convergence" device that can function as a virtual desktop or mobile device through which users can communicate or collaborate, O'Sullivan said. Users will be able to use Cisco's communications and collaboration tools and use video, voice or instant messaging to interact with colleagues.

The Cius includes Wi-Fi capabilities and support for 3G mobile broadband networks, with 4G support in the future. The device will interoperate with Cisco's TelePresence videoconferencing system, WebEx tools and Cisco applications including Cisco Quad and Cisco Show.

Beyond communication, the device will also function as a virtual desktop to run virtualized applications, O'Sullivan said. The company on Monday announced that the Cius will support virtualization software from VMware and Citrix, which will allow the tablet to run a virtualized Windows desktop.

The tablets are still being tested by customers, and the feedback has been positive, O'Sullivan said. Around 500 companies asked to test the product, and Cisco has shipped around 70 tablets to companies for testing. Some customers are focused on virtualization, while others want rich video and communications capabilities in tablets, O'Sullivan said.

The company is augmenting Android with its own custom user interface designed for business customers. The company is currently not looking at building a tablet around Windows.

"We're very focused on Cius and building on Android," O'Sullivan said.

Being a business tool, the tablet also needs strong security and management capabilities, O'Sullivan said. The company will offer software so important data can be remotely wiped in case a device is stolen. The virtualization support will let users access data stored on servers without administrators worrying about data theft.

Cisco is also providing stronger controls within the OS for access to Android's Market application store. Administrators will be able to define the type of applications accessed. Devices can also be set up to provide users with full, limited or no access to applications on the Android Market.

Cisco will compete with companies like Hewlett-Packard, which is shipping the Slate 500 tablet to customers. (PDF file) Avaya has also announced Flare, a tablet focused on communication and collaboration tools. Apple's iPad, which is mostly targeted at consumers, is also gaining traction in enterprises.

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