Cisco had some pretty high hopes for the Cius tablet. When it was first announced at Cisco Live 2010, it was positioned to unseat all manner of devices, including the vaunted iPad. A year later at Cisco Live 2011, the mood had changed somewhat. After watching vendor after vendor try to take down the 800-pound Cupertino Tablet Gorilla, Cisco realized that placing the Cius in the sights of the iPad may not be the way to sell it. Instead, it became an enterprise collaboration endpoint. The idea was to push it out to those that wanted to use their tablets as unified communications endpoints and enact a bit of control over what they could do. Today, just before Cisco Live 2012, Cisco quietly announced through O.J. Winge that development on the Cius would effectively halt. Essentially, what you Cius is what you get (I apologize in advance for all the puns. I’ve been saving them.).
This really doesn’t come as a surprise to me. The handwriting has been on the wall for many months, but around the time of Enterprise Connect 2012, that handwriting was outlined in bright neon letters. Cisco has finally realized that unseating the iPad is all but impossible. The primary drivers for BYOD in the enterprise come from the Cupertino Fruit Table. People focus on writing software for the iPad. Executives want them. Executives and knowledge workers buy them and bring them into your environment. The number of non-Apple table devices is shrinking by the day. Besides Samsung, most other developers have either given up the dream of being the next big post-PC device or are very close to making that decision. Instead, everyone is jumping on the Apple bandwagon and developing their software for the iPad. This is what Cisco decided to do when it ported the Jabber IM/Presence/Softphone software from the PC and Mac to the iPad. While Jabber for iPad won’t be released until sometime in June (my money is on the day of the Cisco Live 2012 Keynote from Chambers), I’ve seen a copy of it running on many Cisco employee’s iPads. It does everything that you’d want a Cius to do. More, in fact. It’s funny that a single application can invalidate an entire device development. Padma Warrior walked on stage at Enterprise Connect 2012 to show off Jabber. On an iPad. More than one person in my Twitter stream made a snarky mention about it, asking where her Cius was. That was likely the final nail in the coffin of the Cius. It just took a few months for the final hammer stroke to fall. If the CTO of your company doesn’t have enough faith in your device to show it off as the gold standard for communication and collaboration on stage in front of thousands, that says more about it that any marketing slide can.
Software development on the Cius has quite frankly been a joke. It took ten months to get Forced Authorization Codes (FAC) to work when dialing numbers. That was a deal breaker to me. The firmware is buggy at best. It’s based on Android 2.2 (Froyo). They’re already 2 major versions behind and the hope to get to ICS (or even Honeycomb or Gingerbread) was doubtful at best. The AppHQ app store never really took off, as most people that I’ve talked to just went over to the Google App Store, or Google Play or whatever it’s called this week, and installed what they wanted. If this had been the Cius that I had gotten last year at Cisco Live, I’d have had high hopes for it. Instead, it’s taken a year to get it to the point of being semi-usable. Assuming there may be one more firmware update in the pipeline, I still don’t think the device is stable enough for everyday use. My Cius still sits on the side of my desk next to my EX90. My day-to-day endpoint is still my 9971. It’s rock solid. It doesn’t reboot every two hours. It plays video when I ask it to. I don’t have to spend 30 seconds poking around the UI before I can make a phone call. Besides getting me a 50 GB Box.net storage account, I’ve used my Cius for very little. I never felt it was going to replace my phone. And as a VAR, I’ve never been asked to quote one. Almost every Cius that I’ve seen has either been in a giveaway or been given to someone to test. In fact, a couple of days ago my friend Amy Arnold (@amyengineer) asked what the best desktop video phone was. The answers were basically “anything but the Cius”. That’s not really a ringing endorsement of the flagship multifunction collaboration device.
Cisco has even tried to extend the reach of the Cius by allowing it to be used as a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) endpoint. Cisco calls it Virtualization eXperience Infrastructure (VXI), but it’s pronounced “VDI”. That’s a nice idea in theory…except that the Cius has some VDI/VXI issues. It’s very under-clocked to crunch any real CPU cycles. The resolution on the output monitor is locked to the resolution of the Cius, which is 1024×600. That’s worse than my first SVGA monitor from 1994. It’s great on a 7″ screen, but not on a 24″ LCD monitor. Cisco should really be spending time concentrating on the plumbing that makes VDI/VXI work, not on providing an endpoint for it. Look at HP and Dell. Their latest numbers and guidance are showing weakness in the PC area thanks to things like VDI and tablets. Do you really want to try to break into this market? It’s going to be like showing up to the party while everyone is cleaning up the mess. Spend more time working with the network folks and the server folks through things like UCS and Cisco Prime NCS and ISE. You’ll make a lot more money than you would otherwise trying to hock tablets.
Alright, I’ll say it. It took Cisco long enough to finally realize that there’s no money to be made in having your own “me too” tablet. The Cius has been a curiosity. It’s been a nice desk toy that can make phone calls and host the occasional Webex meeting. But at the end of the day, another 50,000 Cius units wouldn’t have held off the executioner’s axe. There aren’t lines around the corner to buy the next Cius. No one waits with baited breath to hear about the new features that are going to be in the New Cius. The tablet wars are all but over. Apple won, and Samsung is waging a guerrilla partisan campaign. Anyone that is smart will realize that the money is made by having your software ready to install when a shiny new iPad comes into the building. Cisco is doing the right thing here by eliminating the distraction of developing for a platform no one wants. Instead, by refocusing on the things they should be doing, like providing top notch network equipment and monitoring software, they’ll still get the pieces of the pie that they’ve been chasing all this time. The Cius was never meant to be the hot new tablet. It was meant to drive investment in phone systems and Webex and all the things that go along with VDI/VXI. Those things will still be there tomorrow and even into the future. That’ll be long after the Cius on the side of my desk has been relegated to the same pile as my Novell servers. I highly doubt that anyone will mourn the passing of the Cius. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only thing I’ll be hearing is “See ya. Wouldn’t want to be ya.”