Enterprise Connect: A tale of three tablets

The term “post-PC” had been used by Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself in the iPad debut (reiterated in the iPad 2 announcement), and this year at Enterprise Connect the catchphrase was mentioned in a keynote and in a few breakout sessions. Mobility was definitely a hot topic this year, and one can certainly sense the interest among attendees wanting to learn more about mobile devices fitting into the overall enterprise communications scheme.

When the Avaya Flare, Cisco Cius, and RIM PlayBook were announced, I begged them to stop pouring money into these “enterprise tablet” projects. Instead, I proposed that such resources be allocated to developing apps for existing tablets — Android- or iOS-based — because developing mobile computing hardware just isn’t a core competency among these communications firms.

But I’m only a n00b blogger occupying a dusty corner of the industry blogosphere — who am I to say, right? Avaya had half a dozen Avaya Flare tablets at its pavilion, and Cisco had a few Ciuses on deck for the buzz counteroffensive. Heck, even Polycom showed me its telepresence app on a Samsung Galaxy Tab…

It’s obvious that Avaya, Cisco, and Polycom each has a very different philosophy when it comes to developing an “enterprise tablet”…

Avaya Flare Experience


Watch me light up the room

I will be the first to admit: Avaya did a tremendous job designing the Flare user interface, or as the company likes to put it, “experience.” It’s evident that Avaya R&D started from scratch and came out with a whole new UI tailored to enterprise communications. Although the device (Avaya Desktop Video Device, or ADVD — yes, quite a buzzkill product moniker) runs on Android, the UI is far from the typical screen full of scattered apps.

Perhaps Avaya is carving itself a niche for this tablet to be a pure mobile communications workhorse and nothing more. It has Android DNA, but Avaya hasn’t positioned the Flare AVDV as an all-purpose tablet. I believe the selling target is the executive behind a mahogany desk who cares less about playing games or writing documents on a mobile device. That’s why it’s priced at around $2,000?

The pricing may be its downfall, but I like how it makes a bold statement by slapping on an 11.6-inch display. (Maybe it wanted a 10″ but Apple’s gobbled up all the supply for iPads?)

Cisco Cius

See me, see you, Cius

The Cisco Cius, on the other hand, is significantly smaller than the Avaya Flare, and feels somewhat cheaper in terms of material. Also running the Android operating system, it’s apparent that Cisco wants the everyday worker to have one of these things at his (or her) disposal to boost productivity and enhance collaboration. It’s meant to be docked to a desk phone/station when not out and about, but then something magical happens when it’s in docked mode: the ability to work in a virtual desktop.

Cisco knows that nobody in their right mind would want to do serious office work (e.g. typing documents, populating spreadsheets, etc.) on this 7-inch tablet running on an Intel Atom CPU (as I was told). So once the Cius is docked, the user can use a virtual desktop client to work as if s/he is in front of a real PC. Better yet, files can reside on the device if need be when connectivity is an issue or simply because of a business requirement.

During Barry O’Sullivan’s keynote he mentioned that the price for a Cius is expected to drop to around $700 because of projected demand. I still think that price point is kind of high in the face of consumer tablets like the Apple iPad and Motorola Xoom, not to mention the Dell Streak and Samsung Galaxy Tab…

Polycom Telepresence

Speaking of the Samsung Galaxy Tab… Polycom’s philosophy is clearly to stay away from designing a spanking new UI or to make some new tablet hardware. The company partnered with Samsung to have a Polycom Telepresence app loaded on the Galaxy Tab. By the way, that tablet retails for around $250.

When the telepresence app was demoed to me we ran into a few glitches at first. But in the end the Polycom folks got it working, and I was able to capture a clip of it in action. As you can see in the video, not only can you video conference but also share screens. I can see this app being useful for workers who already got one of these Samsung tablets.

If Polycom can work through the stability issues with the telepresence app, then this could become a runaway hit among enterprise users, especially at the sub-$300 unit price.

So there is hope for an enterprise tablet

Uh, not really. I believe what the user desires is the experience of the Flare, the features of the Cius, and the price of Polycom’s solution bundle.

That device arrived in April 2010, even before any of these came to exist. A 10-inch screen, smooth UI, wide selection of apps, and for $500.

It’s the Apple iPad, of course, a consumer tablet that’s making inroads into the enterprise. Apple understood all three philosophies and that’s why the iPad was such a huge success. Polycom has the right idea to partner with Samsung, which is well versed in the consumer electronics arena, to create an app instead, but Avaya and Cisco may want to reconsider their approach.


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