Why I Won’t Be Getting Google Glass

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You may recall a few months back when I wrote an article talking about Google Glass and how I thought that the first generation of this wearable computing device was aimed way too low in terms of target applications. When Google started a grass roots campaign to hand out Glass units to social media influencers, I retweeted my blog post with the hashtag #IfIHadGlass with the idea that someone at Google might see it and realize they needed to se their sights higher. Funny enough, someone at Google did see the tweet and told me that I was in the running to be offered a development unit of Glass. All for driving a bit of traffic to my blog.

About a month ago, I got the magic DM from Google Glass saying that I could go online and request my unit along with a snazzy carrying case and a sunglass lens if I wanted. I only had to pony up $1500US for the privilege. Oh, and I could only pick it up at a secured Google facility. I don’t even know where the closest one of those to Oklahoma might be. After weighing the whole thing carefully, I made my decision.

I won’t be participating in generation one of Google Glass.

I had plenty of reasons. I’m not averse to participating in development trials. I use beta software all the time. I signed up for the last wave of Google CR-48 Chromebooks. In fact, I still use that woefully underpowered CR-48 to this day. But Google Glass represents something entirely different from those beta opportunities.

From Entry to Profit

Google isn’t creating a barrier to entry through their usual methods of restricting supply or making the program invite only. Instead, they are trying to restrict Glass users to those with a spare $1500 to drop on a late alpha/early beta piece of hardware. I also think they are trying to recoup the development costs of the project via the early adopters. Google has gone from being an awesome development shop to a company acutely aware of the bottom line. Google has laid down some very stringent rules to determine what can be shown on Glass. Advertising is verboten. Anyone want to be that Google finds a way to work AdWords in somewhere? If you are relying on your tried-and-true user base of developers to recover your costs before you even release the product to the masses, you’ve missed big time

Eye of the Beholder

One of the other things that turned me off about the first generation of Glass is the technology not quite being where I thought it would be. After examining what Glass is capable of doing from a projection standpoint, many of my initial conceptions about the unit are way off. I suppose that has a lot to do with what I thought Google was really working on. Instead of finding a way to track eye movement inside of a specific area and deliver results based on where the user’s eye is focused, Google instead chose to simply project a virtual screen on the user’s eye slightly off center from the field of vision. That’s a great win for version one. But it doesn’t really accomplish what I thought Google Glass should do. The idea of a wearable eyeglass computer isn’t that useful to me if the field of vision is limited to a camera glued to the side of a pair of eyeglass frames. Without the ability to track the eye movements of a user it’s simply not possible to filter the huge amount of information being taken in by the user. If Google could implement a function to see what the user is focusing on, I’m sure that some companies would pay *huge* development dollars to be able to track that information or run some kind of augmented reality advertisement directed as an alternative to that brand. Just go and watch Minority Report if you want to know what I’m thinking about.

Mind the Leash

According to my friend Blake Krone (@BlakeKrone), who just posted his first Google Glass update, the unit is great for taking pictures and video without the need to dig out a camera or take your eyes off the subject for more than the half second it takes to activate the Glass camera with a voice command.  Once you’ve gotten those shiny new pictures ready to upload to Google+, how are you going to do it?  There’s the rub in the first generation Glass units.  You have to tether Glass to some kind of mobile hotspot in order to be able to upload photos outside of a WiFi hotspot.  I guess trying to cram a cellular radio into the little plastic frame was more than the engineers could muster in the initial prototype.  Many will stop me here and interject that WiFi hotspot access is fairly common now.  All you have to do is grab a cup of coffee from Starbucks or a milkshake from McDonalds and let your photos upload to GoogleSpace.  How does that work from a mountain top?  What if I had a video that I wanted to post right away from the middle of the ocean?  How exactly do you livestream video while skydiving over the Moscone Center during Google I/O?  Here’s a hint:  You plant engineers on the roof with parabolic dishes to broadcast WiFi straight up in the air.  Not as magical when you strip all the layers away.  For me, the need to upgrade my data plan to include tethering just so I could upload those pics and videos outside my house was another non-starter.  Maybe the second generation of Glass will have figured out how to make a cellular radio small enough to fit inside a pair of glasses.

Tom’s Take

Google Glass has made some people deliriously happy. They have a computer strapped to their face and they are hacking away to create applications that are going to change the way we interact with software and systems in general. Those people are a lot smarter than me. I’m not a developer. I’m not a visionary. I just call things like I see them. To me, Google Glass was shoved out the door a generation too early to be of real use. It was created to show that Google is still on the cutting edge of hardware development even though no one was developing wearable computing. On the other hand, Google did paint a huge target on their face. When the genie came out of the bottle other companies like Apple and Pebble started developing their own take on wearable computing. Sure, it’s not a striking as a pair of sci-fi googles. But evolutionary steps here lead to the slimming down of technology to the point where those iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S 4 Whatevers can fit comfortable into the frame of any designer eyeglasses. And that’s when the real money is going to be made. Not by gouging developers or requiring your users to be chained to a smartphone.

If you want to check out what Glass looks like from the perspective of someone that isn’t going to wear them in the shower, check out Blake’s Google Glass blog at http://FromEyeLevel.com

iOS 7 and Labels

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Apple is prepping the release of iOS 7 to their users sometime in the next couple of months. The developers are already testing it out to find bugs and polish their apps in anticipation of the user base adopting Jonathan Ive‘s vision for a mobile operating system. In many ways, it’s still the same core software we’ve been using for many years now with a few radical changes to the look and feel. The icons and lack of skeumorphism are getting the most press. But I found something that I think has the ability to be even bigger than that.

The user interface (UI) elements in the previous iOS builds all look very similar. This is no doubt due to the influence of Scott Forestall, the now departed manager of iOS. The dearth of glossy buttons and switches looked gorgeous back in 2007 when the iPhone was first released. But all UI evolves over time. Some evolve faster than others. Apple hit a roadblock because of those very same buttons. They were all baked into the core UI. Changing them was like trying to correct a misspelled word in a stone carving.  It takes months of planning to make even the smallest of changes.  And those changes have to be looked at on a massive scale to avoid causing issues in the rest of the OS.

iOS 7 is different to me.  Look at this pic of an incoming call and compare it with the same screen in iOS 6:

iOS 7

iOS 7

iOS 6

iOS 6

The iOS 6 picture has buttons.  The iOS 7 picture is different.  Instead of have chiseled buttons, it looks like the Answer and Decline buttons have been stuck to the screen with labels.  That’s not the only place in the UI that has a label-like appearance.  Sending a new  iMessage or text to someone in the Messages app looks like applying a stamp to a piece of paper.  Taking all that into consideration, I think I finally understand what Ive is trying to do with this UI shift in iOS 7

Labels are easy to reapply.  You just peel them off and stick them back on.  Unlike the chiseled-in-stone button UI, a label can quickly and easily be reconfigured or replaced if it starts to look dated.  Apple made mention of this in Ive’s iOS 7 video where he talked about creating “hierarchical layers (to) establish order“.  Ive commented that this approach gives depth to the OS.  I think he’s holding back on us.

Jonathan Ive created UI layers in the OS so he can change them out more quickly.  Think about it.  If you only have to change a label in an app or change the way they are presented on screen, it allows you to make more rapid changes to the way the OS looks.  If the layers are consistent and draw from the same pool of resources, it allows you to skin the OS however you want with minimal effort.  Ive wasn’t just trying to scrub away the accumulation of Scott Forrestal’s ideas about the UI.  He wanted to change them and make the UI so flexible that the look can be updated in the blink of an eye.  That gives him the ability to change elements at will without the need to overhaul the system.  That kind of rapid configurability gives Apple the chance to keep things looking fresh and accommodate changing tastes.


Tom’s Take

I can almost hear people now saying that making future iOS releases able to be skinned is just another rip off of Android’s feature set.  In some ways, you are very right.  However, consider that Android was always designed with modularity in mind from the beginning.  Google wanted to give manufacturers and carriers the ability to install their own UI.  Think about how newsworthy the announcement of a TouchWiz-free Galaxy S4 was.  Apple has always considered the UI inviolate in all their products.  You don’t have much freedom to change things in iOS or in OS X.  Jonathan Ive is trying to set things up so that changes can be made more frequently in iOS.  Modders will likely find ways to insert their own UI elements and take these ideas in an ever more radical direction.  And all because Apple wanted to be able to peel off their UI pieces as easily as a label.

The Microsoft Office Tablet

OfficeTabletI’ve really tried to stay out of the Tablet Wars.  I have a first generation iPad that I barely use any more.  My kids have co-opted it from me for watching on-demand TV shows and playing Angry Birds.  Since I spend most of my time typing blog posts or doing research, I use my laptop more than anything else.  When the Surface RT and Surface Pro escaped from the wilds of Redmond I waited and watched.  I wanted to see what people were going to say about these new Microsoft tablets.  It’s been about 4 months since the release of the Surface Pro and simliar machines from vendors like Dell and Asus.  I’ve been slowly asking questions and collecting information about these devices.  And I think I’ve finally come to a realization.

The primary reason people want to buy a Surface tablet is to run Microsoft Office.

Here’s the setup.  Everyone that expressed an interest in the Pro version of the Surface (or the Latitude 10 from Dell) was asked a question by me: What is the most compelling feature for the Surface Pro for you?  The responses that I got back were overwhelming in their similarity.

1.  I want to use Microsoft Office on my tablet.

2.  I want to run full Windows apps on my tablet.

I never heard anything about portability, power, user interface, or application support (beyond full Windows apps).  I specifically excluded the RT model of the Surface from my questions because of the ARM processor and the reliance of software from the Windows App Store.  The RT functions more like Apple/Android tablets in that regard.

This made me curious.  The primary goal of Surface users is to be able to run Office?  These people have basically told me that the only reason they want to buy a tablet is to use an office suite.  One that isn’t currently available anywhere else for mobile devices.  One that has been rumored to be released on other platforms down the road.  While it may be a logical fallacy, it appears that Microsoft risks invalidating a whole hardware platform because of a single application suite.  If they end up releasing Office for iOS/Android, people would flee from the Surface to the other platforms according to the info above.  Ergo, the only purpose of the Surface appears to be to run one application.  Which I why I’ve started calling it the Microsoft Office Tablet.  Then I started wondering about the second most popular answer in my poll.

Making Your Flow Work

As much as I’ve tried not to use the word “workflow” before, I find that it fits in this particular conversation.  Your workflow is more than just the applications you utilize.  It’s how you use them.  My workflow looks totally different from everyone else even though I use simliar applications.  I use email and word processing for my own purposes.  I write a lot, so a keyboard of some kind is important to my workflow.  I don’t do a lot of graphics design, so a pen input tablet isn’t really a big deal to me.  The list goes on and on, but you see that my needs are my own and not those of someone else.  Workflows may be simliar, but not identical.  That’s where the dichotomy comes into play for me.

When people start looking at using a different device for their workflow, they have to make adjustments of some kind.  Especially if that device is radically different from one they’ve been using before.  Your phone is different from a tablet, and a tablet is different from a laptop.  Even a laptop is different from a desktop, but these two are more simliar than most.  When the time comes to adjust your workflow to a new device, there are generally two categories of people:

1.  People who adjust their workflow to the new device.

2.  People who expect the device to conform to their existing workflow.

For users of the Apple and Android tablets, option 1 is pretty much the only option you’ve got.  That’s because the workflow you’ve created likely can’t be easily replicated between devices.  Desktop apps don’t run on these tablets.  When you pick up an iPad or a Galaxy Tab you have to spend time finding apps to replicate what you’ve been doing previously.  Note taking apps, web browsing apps, and even more specialized apps like banking or ebook readers are very commonly installed.  Your workflow becomes constrained to the device you’re using.  Things like on-screen keyboards or lack of USB ports become bullet points in workflow compatibility.  On occasion, you find that a new workflow is possible with the device.  The prime example I can think of is using the camera on a phone in conjunction with a banking app to deposit checks without needing to take them into the bank.  That workflow would have been impossible just a couple of years ago.  With the increase in camera phone resolution, high speed data transfer, and secure transmission of sensitive data made possible by device advancements we can now picture this new workflow and easily adapt it because a device made it possible.

The other category is where the majority of Surface Pro users come in.  These are the people that think their workflow must work on any device they use.  Rather than modify what they’re doing, they want the perfect device to do their stuff.  These are the people that use a tablet for about a week and then move on to something different because “it just didn’t feel right.”  When they finally do find that magical device that does everything they want, they tend to abandon all other devices and use it exclusively.  That is, until they have a new workflow or a substantial modification to their existing workflow.  Then they go on the hunt for a new device that’s perfect for this workflow.

So long as your workflow is the immutable object in the equation, you are never going to be happy with any device you pick.  My workflows change depending on my device.  I browse Twitter and read email from my phone but rarely read books.  I read books and do light web surfing from a tablet but almost never create content.  I spend a lot of time creating content on my laptop buy hate reading on it.  I’ve adjusted my workflows to suit the devices I’m using.

If the single workflow you need to replicate on your table revolves around content creation, I think it’s time to examine exactly what you’re using a tablet for.  Is it portability beyond what a laptop can offer?  Do you prefer to hunt and peck around a touch screen instead of a keyboard?  Are you looking for better battery life or some other function of the difference in hardware?  Or are you just wanting to look cool with a tablet in the “post PC world?”  That’s the primary reason I don’t use a tablet that much any more.  My workflows conform to my phone and my laptop.  I don’t find use in a tablet.  Some people love them.  Some people swear by them.  Just make sure you aren’t dropping $800-$1000 on a one-application device.

At the end of the day, work needs to get done.  People are going to use whatever device they want to use to get their stuff done.  Some want to do stuff and move on.  Others want to look awesome doing stuff or want to do their stuff everywhere no matter what.  Use what works best for you.  Just don’t be surprised if complaining about how this device doesn’t run my favorite data entry program gets a sideways glance from IT.

Disclaimer:  I own a first generation iPad.  I’ve tested a Dell Latitude 10.  I currently use an iPhone 4S.  I also use a MacBook Air.  I’ve used a Lenovo Thinkpad in the past as my primary workstation.  I’m not a hater of Microsoft or a lover of Apple.  I’ve found a setup that lets me get my job done.

BYOD vs MDM – Who Pays The Bill?

Generic Mobile Devices

There’s a lot of talk around now about the trend of people bringing in their own laptops and tablets and other devices to access data and do their jobs.  While most of you (including me) call this Bring Your Own Device (BYoD), I’ve been hearing a lot of talk recently about a different aspect of controlling mobile devices.  Many of my customers have been asking me about Mobile Device Management (MDM).  MDM is getting mixed into a lot of conversations about controlling the BYoD explosion.

Mobile Device Management (MDM) refers to the process of controlling the capabilities of a device via a centralized control point, whether it be in the cloud or on premises.  MDM can restrict functions of a device, such as the camera or the ability to install applications.  It can also restrict which data can be downloaded and saved onto a device.  MDM also allows device managers to remotely lock the device in the event that it is lost or even remotely wipe the device should recovery be impossible.  Vendors are now pushing MDM is a big component of their mobility offerings.  Every week, it seems like some new vendor is pushing their MDM offering, whether it be a managed service software company, a wireless access point vendor, or even a dedicated MDM provider.  MDM is being pushed as the solution to all your mobility pain points.  There’s one issue though.

MDM is a very intrusive solution for mobile devices.  A good analogy might be the rules you have for your kids at home.  There are many things they are and aren’t allowed to do.  If they break the rules, there are consequences and possible punishments.  Your kids have to follow your rules if they live under your roof.  Such is the way for MDM as well.  Most MDM vendors that I’ve spoken to in the last three months take varying degrees of intrusion to the devices.  One Windows Mobile provider started their deployment process with a total device wipe before loading an approved image onto the mobile device.  Others require you to trust specific certificates or enroll in special services.  If you run Apple’s iOS and designate the device as a managed device in iOS 6 to get access to certain new features like the global proxy setting, you’ll end up having a wiped device before you can manage it.  Services like MobileIron can even give administrators the ability to read any information on the device, regardless of whether it’s personal or not.

That level of integration into a device is just too much for many people bringing their personal devices into a work environment.  They just want to be able to check their email from their phone.  They don’t want a sneaky admin reading their text messages or even wiping their entire phone via a misconfigured policy setting or a mistaken device loss.  Could you image losing all your pictures or your bank account info because Exchange had a hiccup?  And what about pushing MDM polices down to disable your camera due to company policy or disable your ability to make in-app purchases from your app repository of choice?  How about setting a global proxy server so you are restricted from browsing questionable material from the comfort of your own home?  If you’re like me, any of those choices make me cringe a little.

That’s why BYoD polices are important.  They function more like having your neighbor’s children over at your house.  While you may have rules for your children, the neighbor’s kids are just vistors.  You can’t really punish them like you’d punish your own kids.  Instead, you make what rules you can to prevent them from doing things they aren’t supposed to do.  In many cases, you can send the neighbor’s kids to a room with your own kids to limit the damage they can cause.  This is very much in line with the way we treat devices with BYoD settings.  We try to authenticate users to ensure they are supposed to be accessing data on our network.  We place data behind access lists that try to determine location or device type.  We use the network as the tool to limit access to data as opposed to intruding on the device.

Both BYoD and MDM are needed in a corporate environment to some degree. The key to figuring out which needs to be applied where can be boiled down to one easy question:

Who paid for your device?

If the user bought their device, you need to be exploring BYoD polices as your primary method of securing the network and enabling access.  Unless you have a very clearly defined policy in place for device access, you can’t just assume you have the right to disable half a user’s device functions and then wipe it whenever you feel the need.  Instead, you need to focus your efforts on setting up rules that they should follow and containing their access to your data with access lists and user authentication.  On the other hand, if the company paid for your tablet then MDM is the likely solution in mind.  Since the device belongs to the corporation, they are will within their rights to do what they would like with it.  Use it just like you would a corporate laptop or an issued Blackberry instead of a personal iPhone.  Don’t be shocked if it gets wiped or random features get turned off due to company policy.

Tom’s Take

When it’s time to decide how best to manage your devices, make sure to pull out all those old credit card receipts.  If you want to enable MDM on all your corporate phones and tablets, be sure to check out http://enterpriseios.com/ for a list of all the features supported in a given MDM provider for both iOS and other OSes like Android or Blackberry.  If you didn’t get the bill for that tablet, then you probably want to get in touch with your wireless or network vendor to start exploring the options available for things like 802.1X authentication or captive portal access.  In particular, I like some of the solutions available from Aerohive and Aruba’s ClearPass.  You’re going to want both MDM and BYoD policies in your environment to be sure your devices are as useful as possible while still being safe and protecting your network.  Just remember to back it all up with a very clear, detailed written use policy to ensure there aren’t any legal ramifications down the road from a wiped device or a lost phone causing a network penetration.  That’s one bill you can do without.

The Google Glass Ceiling

I finally got around to watching the Charlie Rose interview with Sebastian Thrun.  Thrun is behind a lot of very promising technology, the least of which is the Google Glass project.  Like many, I kind of put this out of my mind at the outset, dismissing it as a horrible fashion trend at best and a terribly complicated idea at worst.  Having seen nothing beyond the concept videos that are currently getting lots of airplay, I was really tepid about the whole concept and wanted to see it baked a little more before I really bought into the idea of carrying my smartphone around on my head instead of my hip.  Then I read another interesting piece about the future of Google and Facebook.  In and of itself, the blog post has some interesting prognostications about the directions that Facebook and Google are headed.  But one particular quote caught my eye in both the interview and the future article.  Thrun says that the most compelling use case for Google Glass right now that they can think of is for taking pictures and sharing them with people on Google+.  Charlie Rose even asked about other types of applications, like augmented reality.  Thrun dismissed these in favor of talking about how easy it was to take pictures by blinking and nodding your head.  Okay, I’m going to have to take a moment here…

Sebastian Thrun, have you lost your mind?!?

Seriously.  You have a project sitting on your ears that has the opportunity to change the way that people like me view the world and the best use case you can think of today is taking pictures of ice cream and posting it to a dying social network?  Does. Not. Compute.  Honestly, I can’t even begin to describe how utterly dumbstruck I am by this.  After spending a little more time looking into Google Glass, I’m giddy with anticipation with what I can do with this kind of idea.  However, it appears that the current guardians of the technology seem fit to shoehorn this paradigm-shifting concept into a camera case.

When I think of augmented reality applications, I think of the astronomy apps I see on the iPad that let me pick out constellations with my kids.  I can see the ones in the Southern Hemisphere just by pointing my Fruity Tablet at the ground.  Think of programs like Word Lens that allow me to instantly translate signs in a foreign language into something I can understand.  That’s the technology we have today that you can buy from the App Store.  Seriously.  No funky looking safety glasses required.  Just imagine that technology in a form factor where it’s always available without the need to take out your phone or tablet.  That’s what we can do at this very minute.  That doesn’t take much imagination at all.  Google Glass could be the springboard that launches so much more.

Imagine having an instant portal to a place like Wikipedia where all I have to do is look at an object and I can instantly find out everything I need to know about it.  No typing or dictating. All I need to do is glance at the TARDIS USB hub on my desk and I am instantly linked to the Wikipedia TARDIS page.  Take the Word Lens idea one step further.  Now, instead of only reading signs, let the microphone on the Google Glass pick up the foreign language being spoken and provide real-time translation in subtitles on the Glass UI.  Instant understanding with possibilities of translating back into the speaker’s language and display of phrases to respond with.  How about the ability to display video on the UI for things like step-by-step instructions of disassembling objects or repairing things?  I’d even love to have a Twitter feed displayed just outside my field of vision that I can scroll through with my eye movements.  That way, I can keep up with what’s going on that’s important to me without needing to lift a finger.  The possibilities are endless for something like this.  If only you can see past the ability to post pointless pictures to your Picasa account.

There are downsides to Google Glass too.  People are having a hard time interacting as it is today with the lure of instant information at their fingertips.  Imagine how bad it will be when they don’t have to make the effort of pulling out their phone.  I can see lots of issues with people walking into doors or parked cars because they were too busy paying attention to their Glass information and not as much time watching where they were walking.  Google’s web search page has made finding information a fairly trivial issue even today.  Imagine how much lazier people will be if all they have to do is glance at the web search and ask “How many ounces are in a pound?”.  Things will no longer need to be memorized, only found.  It’s like my teacher’s telling me not to be reliant on a calculator for doing math.  Now, everyone has a calculator on their phone.

Tom’s Take

In 2012, the amount of amazing technology that we take for granted astonishes me to no end.  If you had told me in the 1990s that we would have a mini computer in our pocket that has access to the whole of human knowledge and allows me to communicate with my friends and peers around the world instantly, I’d have scoffed at your pie-in-the-sky dreams.  Today, I don’t think twice about it.  I no longer need an alarm clock, GPS receiver, pocket camera, or calculator.  Sadly, the kind of thinking that has allowed technology like this to exist doesn’t appear to be applied to new concepts like Google Glass.  The powers that be at GoogleX can’t seem to understand the gold mine they’re sitting on.  Sure, maybe applying the current concepts of sharing pictures might help ease transition of new users to this UI concept.  I would hazard that people are going to understand what to do with Google Glass well beyond taking a snapshot of their lunch sushi and sharing with their Foodies circle.  Instead, show us the real groundbreaking stuff like the ideas that I’ve already discussed.  Go read some science fiction or watch movies like The Terminator, where the T-800s have a very similar UI to what you’re developing.  That’s where people want to see the future headed.  Not reinventing the Polaroid camera for the fifth time this year.  And if you’re having that much trouble coming up with cool ideas or ways to sell Google Glass to the nerds out there today, give me a call.  I can promise you we’ll blast through that glass ceiling you’ve created for yourself like the SpaceX Dragon lifting off for the first time.  I may not be able to code as well as other people at GoogleX, but I can promise you I’ve got the vision for your project.

Now You Cius, Now You Don’t

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.

Tom’s Take

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.”

Cisco Cius – My Long Overdue Review


Cisco has introduced a new unified communications endpoint into its portfolio of devices that it hopes will bring a new user experience to customers wanting to unify video and voice in the palms of their hands.  The Cisco Cius represents a large investment into the intersection of mobility, voice, and video.

I won a Cisco Cius at Cisco Live this year.  I was excited to get it into my hands and start playing with it.  I wanted to put it on my desktop and utilize every function I could.  It’s been four months since I won the device, and I’ve spent time on and off putting it through it’s paces.  Some of the things I found were good.  Others, no so much.

The Cius is an Android-based (Froyo 2.2.2) tablet.  It has a 7″ screen (1024×600) with an Atom Z615 processor and 1GB of RAM.  It has an 802.11 a/b/g/n radio and a 4G LTE radio in an upcoming model as well as front and rear cameras, the latter capable of capturing 720p video.  It is also capable of being docked with a port replicator and handset that allows for speakerphone as well as USB ports to drive a keyboard and mouse.  Why?  Because the Cius also includes a Virtual Infrastructure Experience (VXI) client for running a virtual desktop as a replacement for your desktop PC.


When I got the unit, I first had to cool my jets for a bit.  The unit had pre-production software that wasn’t quite up to specs yet.  One of the things that didn’t work was application installation.  The Cius provides its own app store, AppHQ, which can be controlled via corporate policy to restrict downloads to this store.  You can also sideload apps from the regular Android market, but if your admin overlords decree that you shant be able to do that, you’ll be locked into AppHQ.  I took my time poking around the interface and noting how different it was from my iPad.  This was my first attempt at using a Google tablet, so it did take a bit of getting used to, layout wise. As well, the construction was a little different and the unit felt more ‘solid’.  Not to say that Apple’s iPad feels cheap, but the Cius is a little more dense than the aluminum used on my gen 1 iPad.  However, due to the software difficulties I was unable to do much with the Cius.  I did use it to record my Ultimate Cisco Live Attendee video right before I packed it away for the trip home.  Here you can get a feel for the video quality from the front VGA camera:

After I got it home, I had many stops and starts trying to get the right firmware to update it to a point where I could install things.  Thanks to some help from my friend Jon Nelson, I was at least able to get the right software to register it with my CallManager server, which I finally had to upgrade to 8.5 to get everything working correctly.  When I got the new firmware load installed, I was able to browse to the Android Market and start installing apps.  The process was pretty straightforward, and every app was available for installation.  The 7″ screen did seem a little cramped from my 10″ iPad, but it was very usable for simple browsing tasks.  I also noticed that the media dock didn’t secure the unit when docked.  Normally, I expect to hear a click or a snap as the locks engage on something like that, but there was nothing here.  In fact, if you don’t pay attention when docking the unit, it will slip and slide right off into the floor.

After playing with the Cius for a few days, I hit my first show stopping bug.  In the current firmware load there is a problem with dialing calls that require Forced Authorization Codes (FACs).  The dialpad for the unit disappears when the dial string is completed and won’t show up again until the call is connected.  The problem for me is that all my long distance calls (which represent the majority of my office calls) require me to enter an access code when I dial.  Without a dialpad, I can’t enter the code to complete the call.  For this reason, the 9971 I normally use has stayed on my desk and the Cius has been relegated to the side desk where it gets tested on occasion.  I’m sure that Cisco has seen the oversight in not allowing me to have a dialpad during ring out and will be releasing a firmware to fix that in no time.  Oh, wait…

In order to expedite my firmware update desires, I signed up for the Cius developer program and gained access to the firmware update service for testing.  Never one to shy away from putting beta code on my devices, I followed the developer directions and waited patiently for my Cius to update.  It took a couple of hours to pull the new code and reboot.  Where it promptly locked up.  Every time I tried to install new code, it rebooted and hung on the restart, the Cisco logo taunting me for hours on end until I performed a hard reset.  Which of course reset the firmware back to the old version.  And erased anything I might have installed.  Oh, bother.

Figuring that beta firmware may be just a little too advanced, I decided to head over to Cisco’s website and pull down a new production firmware for CUCM so that I can update it like that.  Which is where I finally encountered the “You do not have a valid contract” error that has bitten so many people as of late, especially Ethan Banks.  Of course, I don’t have a SmartNet contract for this device since I didn’t buy it in the first place.  I figure I need to order one if I want to figure out why it keeps locking up or why I can’t get the dialpad to show up to make long distance calls.  I know the firmware I managed to load did fix some other transient issues, like the unit losing connection to CUCM every night and requiring a reboot to establish a connection again.  However, I’m going to need a lot of support to bring this device up to the point were I consider it a replacement for my 9971 deskphone.


Tom’s Take

If I had to use one word to describe the Cius, it would be potential.  Cisco has obviously invested a lot of money into this unit and sees it as a big step going forward to unify all of their cutting edge technology into a single portable unit.  It makes for a really nice demo and you can argue that it makes a statement sitting on the desk.  The hardware seems to be acceptable for use as a business communications endpoint.  However, software quirks show it to be an early 1.0 product release.  Difficulties in getting my unit into a usable condition hampered me from replacing my current desk phone.  Inability to get software to load without causing reboot loops has forced me to reformat more times than I care to count.  And short-sightedness at allowing me to download production firmware updates means that it will likely sit on the side of my desk until such time as someone decides that, as a Cisco partner, I am not a stinking filthy pirate and only want to get my Cius running so that I can show it off to coworkers and customers in the hopes that they buy a truckload of them.  However, until that day comes, my Cius will be relegated to little more than a curious desk ornament, right next to the Buckyballs and my stressball collection.  Let’s hope I can fix that sooner rather than later.


Disclaimer

The Cisco Cius I have was won in a contest at Cisco Live 2011.  I recieved a Cius and a media dock, as well as a Cisco-branded Jawbone Icon headset.  At no time did Cisco ask me to write a review of the device, nor did they place any restrictions on the content of any reviews written by me.  They did not ask for any consideration nor were they promised any by me in the crafting of this post.  The opinions and conclusions reached are mine and mine alone.