Cisco never misses a chance to tout its upcoming Cius tablet and the tight integration it will have with IP telephony, presence, and VXI virtual desktop. Whether Cisco's grand enterprise tablet plan will work remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: Cisco is on a collision course with Apple and its iPad.
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Yet does Cisco have the engineering and apps to win in the battle of Cius vs. iPad? If so, can the two companies maintain the cooperative relationship that currently benefits both of them?
Cisco and Apple or Cisco vs. Apple?
There is plenty of proof of the currently harmonious (and profitable) relationship between Cisco and Apple. For one, it's difficult to underestimate the importance of Apple enabling Cisco AnyWhere SSL Client in iOS for iPads and iPhones. For many, that integration means instant access to internal resources with an iPad or iPhone using an existing VPN remote access solution. Moreover, Cisco's support of the Mac OSX as a client is crucial. Apparently, 80% of Cisco engineers are using Mac OSX as their desktops. These are not perks that Cisco can afford to lose as it brings its Android-based Cius into direct competition with the iPad.
Cius vs. iPad: Engineering issues?
Beyond risking its relationship with Apple, Cisco faces tough challenges in gaining enterprise tablet acceptance – starting with engineering. While Cisco is proud of its record in developing its own silicon and software, the Cius uses off-the-shelf electronic components and Android OS. So while Apple aggressively pursues a fully integrated hardware and software stack, Cisco will depend on Google to add features to the OS, such as notification, QoS, WiFi features and more.
How can Cisco take on the Apple developer ecosystem?
Apple has far more engagement from developers than Cisco. At the iPad 2 launch, Steve Jobs spoke of 350,000 apps and $2 billion paid to developers. I expect the Cisco Cius will urgently seek to engage corporate developers who are part of the Cisco Unified Communications strategy, and can use custom APIs to develop apps for business functions. However, Apple has set a very low price point for its apps. It's questionable whether IT managers will pay $20 or $30 a seat for a Cisco communications app when they can pay $2 for an equivalent Apple app.
Video: The final frontier?
There is no question that Cisco has made a name for itself in corporate video with telepresence and the Tandberg acquisition. However, Apple has been rapidly developing its Facetime technology for videoconferencing. Facetime may not be a “corporate solution” like Cisco-Tandberg videoconferencing, but it has the potential to go this route. Facetime is installed in a lot of devices, works on desktops and could easily be made available to Windows.
Cisco vs. Apple: The marketing message and cost
Let's face it: Users want an iPad. An IT manager who delivers an Android device may have a much harder time getting users to buy in. Few users are inspired by their Blackberry’s or Nokia phones, but Apple focuses on the total user experience and inspires users to be engaged with their technology. It's hard to imagine Cisco achieving the same thing as quickly.
Then there's price. The Cius is rumored to run at about $1200 per unit. The iPad 2 now starts at $499, and Apple is focusing on managing the supply chain to curb pricing even further.
Cisco has an uphill battle with the burden of morphing its relationship with Apple into that of cooperative competition.