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Cisco targets corporate customers with new tablet

Cisco Systems headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

Cisco Systems

Cisco Systems Inc. is launching a tablet it hopes will be as successful in the business market as Apple's iPad is in the consumer market.

The computer-networking giant gave reporters and industry analysts a hands-on preview of the new Cius tablet on Wednesday. Unlike the consumer-focused iPad or Research In Motion Ltd.'s business-consumer hybrid PlayBook, the Cius is aimed entirely at the corporate market. Featuring functions such as video-conferencing, an applications store composed entirely of business applications, and secure access to remote work computers, the Cius marks Cisco's attempt to give companies a tablet that can also mimic a smart phone or desktop.

"[The Cius brings]a lot of power focused on the enterprise user and what the enterprise user wants," said Tom Puorro, senior manager of product management for Cisco's unified communications division. "This is not an additional device, it's a consolidation of devices."

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The Cius, which has a 7-inch screen and runs on a modified version of Google's Android operating system, is expected to hit the market by the end of July, although some of Cisco's bigger corporate customers are already testing the tablet. Like RIM's PlayBook, the Cius will at first be available only with WiFi connectivity, with a cellular-equipped version due in the fall. The WiFi version, which comes with 32 gigabytes of on-board memory and a slot for additional memory cards, will cost about $750.

Among the software Cisco is shipping with the Cius is Quad, which lets companies create internal, Facebook-like social networks, and a unified contacts list that combines e-mail, calendar and phone information (the tablet can be used to make audio and video calls).

The Cius also comes with access to the Android applications market, although corporate IT departments can limit or block an employee's access to that largely consumer-focused app store.

Initially, Cisco will likely try to market the device to existing customers who already use other Cisco products, such as the company's audio and video communications tools. However Cisco engineers stress that many of the tablet's capabilities - such as the e-mail, calendar and video-conferencing software - can be easily tweaked to work with non-Cisco corporate infrastructure.

Collin Gillis, director of research and senior technology analyst at BGC Financial, said the Cisco tablet will remain a "show-me story" until the company can prove there's a market for the device.

"Most people are not paying attention to the Cius. That may be a mistake, because they are well integrated into the business space."

Cisco's new tablet likely represents less of a threat to Apple than to companies such as Hewlett-Packard and RIM - each of which have opted to try to develop tablets that appeal equally to both consumers and businesses, and must now compete with the likes of Apple on one end of the spectrum, and Cisco on the other.

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But with dozens of new tablet models due out this year, it's uncertain whether Cisco's business-only approach will give the company a profitable niche when the consumer tablet market becomes saturated with new entrants.

"The tablet market is going to get crowded," Mr. Gillis said. "And there will be more losers than winners."

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