As the first major tablet to be officially announced after the iPad's launch, Cisco's Cius is bound to be compared to Apple's pioneer. But really, they're two very different devices, aimed at two very different markets. You could almost think of the Cius as the BlackBerry to the iPad's iPhone: It has a specific set of tools for a specific segment of buyer, and those buyers could well find it as indispensable as the BlackBerry. After all, BlackBerry is still kicking the iPhone's ass in sales--the business market is powerful and huge.
The Cius is a 7-inch Android tablet, weighing in at 1.5 pounds (the iPad is a 9.7-inch tablet, at 1.6 pounds, for comparison). We've seen that spec before, but the Cius has some really interesting customizations. It's got 32GB of memory (and an SD slot for adding more, or easily uploading pictures from a camera), along with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor. Cisco claims the tablet can eke out eight hours of battery life, which would be extremely impressive--the Atom processor is pretty powerful but also a much bigger battery drain than a mobile chip like Apple's A4 or Qualcomm's Snapdragon. Luckily, that battery is also easily replaceable, so you could pack an extra one for long trips.
A boon for its teleconferencing capabilities (see below), it has a front-facing 720p camera as well as a rear-facing 5MP camera that can capture either stills or VGA-quality video. That shows that Cisco is putting the emphasis firmly on video calling--it's highly unusual to have a better-quality camera facing forward than backward.
In terms of wireless, Cisco says the Cius will have an a/b/g/n Wi-Fi card, as well as 3G or 4G service "through your data provider." There are few specifics, here--either the Cius will be available through a carrier or it'll have something like a USB port to support external wireless cards. There's a trade-off to both--an internal card is neater and doesn't require a dongle, but an external card allows flexibility of service, easy upgrading, and possibly better reception. Given the Cius's embrace of ports (like that SD slot), I'd say either is possible.
The Cius is also notable for its desk-to-mobile transformation. It has a docking station called the HD Soundstation which provides a faster wired ethernet connection, as well as a USB 2.0 port for external keyboards--great for hammering out emails or documents. (Of course, it also supports Bluetooth 3.0.) It also supports dual monitors, so you can push video onto a second, larger monitor if you want.
Now, the interesting bit: software. This isn't stock Android, but it's not a simple skin like we're used to from HTC, Motorola, or Samsung. It's a suite of software specifically using Cisco's excellent business conferencing products, with some nice new additions. Tap the name of a contact, and you'll be presented with different ways to communicate with that contact, like email, IM, telepresence, or conference. Cius supports both TelePresence and the WebEx Collaboration Cloud, allows integration of social networking with real-time communication through Cisco Quad, and lets you create and share videos with Cisco Show and Share.
Of course, the Cius also supports the fast-growing (though perhaps not that high quality) Android Market app store, and Cisco included some sort of Firefox browser, though desktop Firefox isn't very touch-friendly, and Fennec (mobile Firefox) is far from ready for the masses.
The Cius is a really interesting device. It's not an iPad competitor at all--we're going to have to stop thinking of tablets as all competing with each other, especially as they gain in popularity. I think there's definitely a huge market for the Cius, but it remains to be seen if business users will add it to their arsenal along with the BlackBerry and Lenovo laptop.
The Cius is expected to see release in the first quarter of 2011. Pricing details were not released.