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Avaya chases Cisco with videoconferencing tablet

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Where Cisco goes, Avaya often follows, and the smaller firm has introduced a video collaboration tablet, the Flare, similar to Cisco's recently announced Cius.

While market buzz has focused on general-purpose consumer tablets like the iPad, many vendors believe their opportunity will lie in optimizing the form factor for specific applications – in the case of Cisco and Avaya, enterprise users wanting to communicate and collaborate on the move, with a device more portable than a PC and with a larger screen than a phone. Dell is already jumping on this bandwagon with a new program to market its Streak device, a five-inch tablet/phone hybrid, at vertical markets, notably healthcare.

As for Avaya, like Cisco, it is putting faith in the touchscreen tablet format as a next-generation experience that could boost uptake of applications like videoconferencing, one of the industry's slowest-burning technologies, often because of the limited usability of devices.

The Avaya Flare is an 11.6 inch unit with a battery life of three hours of active HD video, and it can be tethered to a desk via a docking station. It comes with Avaya's unified communications software and a new interface called Flare User Experience. It runs Android and can access the Market, or customers can use Avaya's Ace application development toolkit. Flare will ship in the fourth quarter, priced around $2,000. The Flare User Experience software will also be ported over time to other devices such as iPhones and other smartphones, Avaya said.

Avaya also announced Collaboration Server software, which integrates all its back end tools in this area in one place, including Session Manager, System Manager, Presence Manager and Communications Manager.

Cisco's contribution, the Cius, made its debut in June, offering a seven-inch display, 3G/Wi-Fi and a price tag under $1,000. It comes packed with videoconferencing features, and also aims to replace the desktop phone. It runs Android on Intel Atom processors and apps for VoIP, unified communications, Webex conferencing and telepresence are pre-installed and accessible from any location. This should boost usability of some of Cisco's most strategic application areas, telepresence, HD video streaming, and multiparty conferencing. All these play an important role in the IP giant's roadmap to harness the explosion in IP video traffic, especially to mobile devices, to drive its unified communications play.

The next push will be to help enterprises migrate to the cloud, or adopt Cisco services for the first time through more cost-effective cloud options. Cisco has been stepping up its activities in devices for years, aiming to control the IP connection from cloud server and routers to end user experience. It has made gadgets such as business IP phones for years. The acquisitions of Linksys, camcorder maker Flip, and set-top box firm Scientific Atlanta were key in the consumer worlds, and recently it has been focusing on improved consumer design and on new device formats, with even a smartphone rumored.

Meanwhile, Dell has already made the leap into mobile devices with its smartphones and Streak. It is now looking to plow a different furrow from that of the iPad by leveraging its enterprise base and targeting key vertical applications. The first will be to offer the Streak as part of a broader set of healthcare services and equipment. An integrated bundle of hardware and software could appeal to health sector CIOs more than the standalone iPad, however much employees lust after the Apple device. Dell says the Streak will “integrate seamlessly” with its existing healthcare bundles and will ease compliance because patient data will be accessed via the cloud.

Copyright © 2010, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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