Cisco's Apple-Crushing Business (Tablet) Plan

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As the tablet war moves into the office, Apple's (AAPL) iPad finally faces some worthy opponents, namely Cisco (CSCO) and Google (GOOG).

There's also Research In Motion ( RIMM), whose BlackPad tablet device will reportedly hit the market this fall, and there's been whispers of tablets arriving soon from Motorola ( MOT), Dell ( DELL) and even Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ).

But like Apple's plunge into tablets with the iPad, the entrants, led by Cisco -- the early favorite to conquer the business market -- face the question: What will people do with business tablets? For Cisco, which supplies network equipment and pushes expensive teleconferencing services, the key is to spark video calling.

"They are trying to bring video into the mainstream," said Jeff Heibert, CEO of ROI Networks, an office communications company in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. "And Cisco knows that if they can make it fun, compelling and effective they will benefit by selling more network infrastructure."

One big difference from the consumer tablet trend is that Apple won't necessarily be the frontrunner in the business tablet invasion. Sure, Apple's unopposed iPad campaign has not only redefined the tablet category, it has given Apple an astoundingly hot new growth product and a one-year lead on the competition.

But while Apple has employed a deft hand in the consumer market, it has come up all thumbs in the business sector. For example, after three years, the Apple iPhone is still a rarity to IT managers, and the iPad, while a fun new toy for some office gadget fans, still sits outside the corporate firewall.

The office is largely RIM's domain and BlackBerries are still the champion of work phones. And as RIM presence grew, players like Microsoft ( MSFT) and Palm have vanished. Meanwhile, with the arrival of HTC's Verizon ( VZ) Incredible and Sprint's ( S) EVOs as well as Motorola's Droid phones, Google's Android operating system has been able to worm its way in to the enterprise arena.

Cisco, on the other hand, has had no hand in the phone action, but its entry into the tablet market is particularly intriguing. Cisco's choice of Google Android software to run the Cius is a brilliant move to go with something popular, nimble and open, giving the effort little baggage and lots of runway.

In a perfect Cisco world, the Cius would be another data-hungry device that would force companies to buy more Cisco infrastructure.

Here's what the tablet players bring to the office.

Cisco's Cius is a 7-inch device that docks with the office phone as a video screen and can be removed to serve as a portable tablet PC.

Cisco's edge:
  • World's No.1 computer networker
  • Internet traffic and security expert
  • Will give away tablets to make telepresence (video calls) fly
  • Cisco's weakness:
  • Poor track record on personal devices
  • Hardware bias could skew new software aim
  • Video calls may not be a killer app
  • RIM's BlackPad features a 7-inch touchscreen and uses WiFi, but it may need to tether with a BlackBerry phone for mobile service.

    RIM's edge:
  • BlackBerry is the prime mobile office enabler
  • BlackPad brings the BlackBerry screen up to workable size
  • Trusted partner inside the firewall
  • RIM's weakness:
  • Tethered? Really?
  • BlackBerry 6 operating system is new and unknown
  • BlackBerry apps are sparse -- to put it lightly
  • Apple iPad, the tablet standard bearer, 3 million sold in the first 80 days.

    Apple's edge:
  • People love the device
  • Multitude of great apps
  • MobileMe email and contacts sync
  • Apple iPad weakness:
  • Closed system doesn't play well with IT
  • Network security is still untrusted
  • All pleasure, no business
  • --Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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