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Cisco Crafts Android-Based Enterprise Tablet

The mobile collaboration tool is targeted at businesses, so it's not seen as a direct competitor to Apple's iPad.

Cisco on Tuesday announced a forthcoming tablet computer based on Google's Android operating system for the business collaboration market.

The Cisco Cius, available in early 2011, promises virtual desktop integration and support for Cisco mobile collaboration and communication technology. "Cisco Cius epitomizes how the network is changing the way we live, work, learn and play," said Tony Bates, SVP and general manager of Cisco's enterprise, commercial and small business unit, in a statement.

Bates contends the Cius can help transform how healthcare professionals deliver patient care, how retailers serve their customers, and how universities deliver education to students. "Best of all, Cisco Cius offers IT [organizations] a way to dramatically lower the cost-per-user of provisioning those new experiences," he said.

Weighing 1.15 pounds (0.52kg), lighter and smaller than the 1.5 pound (0.68kg) Apple iPad that has reinvigorated the tablet market, the Cius provides telepresence, HD video streaming and real-time video, multi-party conferencing, e-mail, messaging, browsing, and cloud-based document authoring capabilities. Cisco did not disclose a price for the Cius.

Tom Puorro, director of product management in Cisco's IP communications unit, said in a phone interview that the iPad was not the primary driver for the creation of the Cius, though he did note that development was accelerated following the iPad's introduction. He said Cisco began working on the device about 18 months ago.

It features a front-mounted 720p HD camera that can reach frame rates of up to 30 frames per second; a 7" super VGA touch-target display designed for real-time and streaming video; and single-button Cisco Telepresence support, both when the tablet is docked or on a Wi-Fi network.

The Cius supports 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networking and 3G cellular services, with 4G support planned in the future. Cisco says users can expect eight hours of operation on a full battery charge. The device also sports a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera that can transmit streaming VGA-quality video and take still images, not to mention dual noise-canceling microphones.

Of course, the Cius supports various Cisco collaboration applications including Cisco Quad, Cisco Show and Share, Cisco WebEx Connect, Cisco WebEx Meeting Center, Cisco Presence, and interoperability with Cisco TelePresence.

The Cius is being offered with an optional docking station that includes a telephone handset speakerphone, HD DisplayPort and USB ports.

Because the Cius is based on Google's Android operating system, companies deploying the device can look forward to a large pool of developers and many applications that can enhance the device. Puorro said that Cisco chose to base the device on Android "to capture the very large growing developer market" and to avoid reliance on a proprietary operating system, something that has hindered Cisco in the past.

Cisco is planning to release a set of device application programming interfaces (APIs) to developers through a forthcoming software developer kit (SDK).

Cisco sees the Cius as a tool for IT organizations that want to empower their mobile workforce without neglecting corporate security requirements. The company says that customer trials of the device will begin in the third quarter of the year.

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