Did Cisco Make the Right Call With Cius?

Just because Cisco is stopping production now doesn't mean the Cius was a bad idea from the start.

At the end of last week, Cisco’s OJ Winge published a blog announcing that the company would cease investments in its Cius tablet. Does this mean it’s end-of-lifing it or killing it as I’ve read in many of the press articles? No, it does not.

In fact, if you read the rest of the blog post, Winge states that Cisco would continue to support the existing base of Cius tablets (which is small) and make the Cisco-branded tablet available to a handful of customers that require a ruggedized, corporate-first tablet. With that being said, the fact remains that we won’t be seeing the Cius tablet in the hands of your doctor or at Best Buy any time soon as it’s not a big focus point for Cisco.

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Before I answer the question of whether Cisco made the right decision now, I think it’s fair to look back as to whether they should have entered the tablet space at all. The Cius was released a couple of years ago when tablets were in their infancy. At the time, Cisco wanted to build collaborative applications for tablets, but the iPad was limited in functionality. Recall back then the iPad had no camera and was a 1.0 version itself. So, Cisco chose to build its own. This is similar to the strategy Avaya took with the Personal Video Device with Flare experience. In both situations, neither company could have achieved their goals if they chose to wait for Apple to build a device they could build on. So I think both Cisco and Avaya did the right thing in building their own devices. Did it carry some risk? Sure it did, but Cisco CEO John Chambers himself stated a few years ago that Cisco didn’t take enough risks and the company needed to stop being “safe.”

So why cease the investment now? Well, I think market dynamics have changed. The iPad 3 is a phenomenal device. The new display, rear- and forward-facing cameras and other enhancements make it a great device to build Cisco collaborative applications on. In fact, not to keep comparing Cisco to Avaya but Avaya also ported its Flare interface to iPad. Additionally, security isn’t as big a concern as it once was since MDM vendors like Mobile Iron have taken care of many of the challenges with on boarding, managing and securing the devices. Cisco and many of the network vendors have also created network solutions to help with companies’ BYOD plans, further reducing the risk of using consumer devices in favor of those provided by the employer.

Additionally, the market acceptance of BYOD has done a 180 in the last 18 months. When Cisco first launched Cius, the majority of companies I talked to were fighting the BYOD trend. Today, almost all CIOs I talk to are accepting it (at least begrudgingly). The CEOs or other company executives often override those CIOs that still reject it. Since BYOD is starting to look like a real trend, why fight the tide now?

Cisco has also put a ton of developmental resources into the software that runs on iPad, including Jabber and WebEx. Cisco’s chances of maintaining its place as a dominant UC solution provider are far better if it continues the evolution of software, rather than investing in a hardware platform that most workers do not want. In some ways, this shows a bit of software maturity for Cisco. The company has, in the past, thrived on vertical integration across its products. The “old” Cisco might have tried to force the Cius down its customer’s throats in order to control the end-to-end experience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Cisco is going to be confused with Linux any time soon, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The only point of concern I have regarding this move is that I did think that Cius gave Cisco access to the Android development community. I considered this one way Cisco could jump-start its fledgling developer community. One of the signs of whether Cisco is indeed walking the walk of a software company is how aggressively it builds out developer ecosystems around WebEx and Jabber. There are programs in place for both platforms now but the company needs to continue the investment here and accelerate ISV interest in them.

So, I believe this to be the right move for Cisco in the market today. I also think it needed the device when it first launched it, so this shouldn’t be considered a failed initiative. Rather, look at the evolution from where tablet computing has been to where it’s going. My own opinion is that the game is over. Apple will eventually have iPod-like share with the iPad and everyone else will fight for the scraps. So to answer the title of my blog: Did Cisco make the right call with Cius? I believe it did when it released it, and I also think it made the right decision to kill it.

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