How Cisco Wants To Reimagine The Desktop PC

Cisco insists that its new DX80 and DX70 devices aren't "computers" as such -- they're gadgets designed to make it easier to collaborate with others without wasting precious desktop real estate. Would an Android-powered 22-inch screen be more useful to you than a dumb monitor -- and how much would you be willing to pay for one from Telstra?

Cisco announced the 22-inch DX80 and the 14-inch DX70 at its recent Cisco Live! event in the US, and showed them off at its APJC Collaboration Connection 2014 event in Macau this week. The idea behind the DX80 is that it can serve as a second screen for your existing laptop, and your primary screen when you want to use collaboration tools such as Jabber or WebEx.

While those tools can be accessed via a standard PC, there are often challenges with audio and picture quality, and the angle of viewing can be unnatural with smaller laptops. The base of the DX80 is designed so that it's at a "natural" chatting height on your desk. There are four microphones built into the legs, with built-in software designed to minimise interference from background noise (useful in open-plan offices). As well, there's a camera attached to the top of the display which you can rotate to show objects on your desk, and a multi-touch screen which you can draw on (the legs slide so you can have the surface on a more natural angle).

The back of the DX80 is also designed to minimise cable clutter, with a panel which covers power, Ethernet and USB inputs:

The smaller DX70 is aimed at users who already have a large and expensive monitor but think they would benefit from a second collaboration device. Both are powered by Android 4.1.1. "It's a modified and hardened version of Android that includes all our collaboration tools," said Rowan Trollope, Cisco SVP and GM for collaboration.

Cisco officials are keen to emphasise that this isn't being positioned as a desktop or notebook replacement. "The intention is to create a very collaboration-focused device," Cisco APJ president Irving Tan said. "It's not meant to replace the PC. It's really focused on applications to deliver the experience around collaboration. We are not moving into the desktop PC space. We are not there to compete with the Lenovos and HPs of the world."

That might not be a bad business strategy. The original dominance of the PC in the 1980s came about through selling to business, not to individuals. Many of those brands have effectively evaporated, and others are struggling to maintain profitability in the face of booming tablet sales.

Yet some of Cisco's partners see potential in the new model as a total desktop replacement. "It's Android-based so for us as a telco there's a massive opportunity for us to provide apps on top of the platform," said Paul Brauer, general manager business development for Cisco collaboration and managed data networks for Telstra. "It's a massive opportunity and there's no reason why it can't be the single device on the desktop with Citrix applications."

Another varying aspect from that traditional model is the pricing. The DX80 will be around $2000 "in volume", while the small DX80 (informally known as the Mini) will be under $1000. Exact prices haven't been finalised, in part because individual regulatory approval will be needed for the device in local markets.

These devices are only going to be sold through Cisco partners; you won't see them popping up at Harvey Norman. As Tan notes, Cisco doesn't want to sell to consumers (a stance reflected in its divestment of Linksys and other consumer-facing brands).

In many cases, businesses won't buy them directly anyway. Cisco expects many people to rent them as part of a service contract, paying a hardware fee alongside the existing fees they already pay for WebEx, potentially increased if the customer also uses the new Collaboration Meeting Room (CMR) technology. While final prices haven't been set, a rate of around $3 a day has been suggested (though that would require a 3-year contract). That's likely to be more acceptable to many businesses than a $2000 up-front price, given that the device isn't much use if you don't also use some form of collaboration software.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Macau as a guest of Cisco.


    We had one just like it at work many years ago

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