Is Cisco Finally Serious About the Consumer?

ned_hooperWhile most of the tech world was abuzz today with the announcement of Google’s (s goog) Chrome OS, another piece of interesting news slipped through the cracks: Cisco (s csco) announced that Ned Hooper is being promoted to chief strategy officer.

With the appointment, Hooper enters a much bigger role at the company. He will not only continue to be the lead for consumer acquisitions, but he’ll help shape overall Cisco strategy and acquisition activity. And if Hooper & Co. can tie the pieces together, we may now have a new and very serious entrant to fight the big boys in the connected consumer marketplace.

Like some up-and-comers before him, Hooper was responsible for Cisco’s consumer strategy.  This responsibility is often seen as a key whistle-stop for execs — and an indication that CEO John Chambers envisions them as a potential heir. Before Hooper, Charlie Giancarlo acted both as chief development officer for Cisco and the president of Linksys and was thought by many to be a possible applicant for Chambers’ seat. Mike Volpi, another one-time heir apparent, helped bring in Scientific-Atlanta, a crucial pillar of Cisco’s consumer strategy, before moving onto online video startup Joost.

Of course, this isn’t the only recent shift for Cisco’s consumer business. While some viewed the company’s acquisition of Pure Digital as an expensive move, Cisco gained through the purchase a highly respected consumer executive, Jonathan Kaplan. During his time running Pure, Kaplan has been able to leapfrog giants such as Sony in the consumer video-cam market with Pure’s cheap and simple products. With Hooper moving up, Kaplan will fill the role of running Cisco’s consumer retail businesses, including overseeing products from Linksys, Pure Digital and Pure Networks.

Cisco has long been criticized for its industrial design and software for consumer products, but Kaplan undoubtedly will look to apply to Cisco many of the same standards that made Pure Digital cameras some of the more user-friendly consumer gadgets in the market (and as anyone who has used video camcorders knows, that’s no small feat).

All this could end up muting criticism that Apple’s new video-enabled iPhone made Cisco’s Pure move a hasty one. Such criticism ignores the fact that Cisco’s strategy now will involve leveraging its strength in the pay TV and broadband market and closely integrating its consumer products, such as Flip cameras, with the network, using software pieces like HNAP from Pure Networks and WebEx.

Michael Wolf is VP of Research for GigaOM. Look for more analysis of Cisco’s consumer strategy coming soon over GigaOM Pro.