Cisco Crams Its Broad(band) Ambitions Into an Android Tablet

UPDATED: Cisco today unveiled a planned Android tablet that gives the router company ownership at every point on the network — from the computers serving up the web and the network infrastructure that delivers the bits, to the end device that consumers will use for access. Cisco is betting that its cachet with the enterprise and its ability to offer an integrated solution that can be controlled throughout the enterprise justifies its entrance into the tablet market.

Cisco CEO John Chambers pointed out the tight integration with the network in his speech announcing the device, saying that unlike the consumer tablets, the Cisco Cius (pronounced see-us) is designed to work with video, collaboration and all of the cloud services in a seamless way that’s controlled by an enterprise. Cisco showed off the ability to make the device work with its Flip camera as well as with its new smart grid gadgets, and it sounds like it might also work with Cisco’s Telepresence, which uses a proprietary protocol. The device, expected out in the first quarter of 2011, tries to bring together Cisco’s love of video, collaboration and the network in a portable package appropriate for the enterprise or educational market.

During the demos, the most remarkable aspect was how interactive the Cisco tablet experience will be, compared with the hottest tablet out today, the Apple iPad. Cisco is building a device around collaboration, not consumption, which makes sense given how collaboration is a big focus point for Cisco and for getting work done.

Essentially this is the next step for Cisco’s voice-over-IP phone business. “Video is the new voice,” said Chambers — a sentiment I’m not sure everyone is ready to embrace. Regardless, the contrasts between the role of broadband in Cisco’s worldview and that of Apple’s are striking, and it’s worth asking yourself if you’d rather have a tablet built for interactive collaboration or web-connected entertainment.

The tablet itself sounds like it will use the ARM architecture inside, at least based on the anticipated 8-hour battery life,(Update: It actually uses Intel’s Atom) and the use of Android is a big coup for Google. Kevin and James questioned whether this device would be able to access the Android Market since Google has been reluctant to allow that in the past, although Cisco touts the Android developer community in its release.

The Cius weighs almost as much as an iPad (which is pretty heavy), has 720p HD, a 5-megapixel camera, and a bunch of radios for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G (4G is coming, although Cisco did not say if it would be WiMAX or LTE). Kevin also wondered if the 7-inch screen size might be too small for enterprise use, and if people really wanted to carry a Cius, a smartphone and a laptop. He also pointed about the “Super VGA” screen resolution will likely be underwhelming at the current screen size.

My hunch is that if Cisco wants to sell a lot of these tablets, it will either have to prove that it’s better in the consumer space than it is currently (and beef up the hardware on the tablet), or it will have to really sell enterprises, schools and other large organizations on the integration story and video phones as our collaborative future. As long as it’s selling to CIOs, Cisco’s tablet has a chance.

Related GigaOM Pro research (sub req’d): The Consumer Video Chat Market Forceast

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