Cisco Plans iPhone Update as Part of UC Push

SAN FRANCISCO -- Cisco today previewed new features coming to its Mobile Voice application for the iPhone during a media briefing here at its offices, outlining plans to advance the company's unified communications strategy.

"We believe the iPhone is a very important market for us," said Laurent Philonenko, vice president and general manager of Cisco's (NASDAQ: CSCO) Unified Communications Business Unit. "The iPhone came from nowhere in the enterprise to CDW and other companies deploying iPhones in the hundreds and thousands of units." (IT distributor CDW, both a Cisco customer and partner, was in attendance.)

While Cisco is careful not to call it multitasking, a feature sorely lacking on the iPhone, the company is adding a "call preservation" feature to its iPhone app. The update is due out either late next month or by April. Cisco said the call preservation feature keeps a call connected even if you switch to another iPhone application.

Also coming in the update is a "shake-to-lock" feature that locks the iPhone when you need to stop what you're doing but want to stay in an application. Cisco said that having the iPhone locked protects the user from accidentally adding text or exiting the application or having to reenter a password. A simple slider on the bottom lets users unlock it with a finger swipe.

Cisco is also bringing voice over Wi-Fi to the iPhone, a feature it already offers on certain Nokia smartphones and plans to bring its instant messaging application to the iPhone as well.

Cisco and CDW both acknowledged that in a time of tight IT budgets simply adding features is not going to result in mobile sales or investment in unified communications.

They said that as enterprises go through the process of looking where to cut expenses they're realizing costs related to mobile are growing.

"Customers are asking us, 'Can you do something about it'?" said Philonenko.

Pat Scheckel, vice president of converged infrastructure solutions at CDW, said one customer is already using voice over Wi-Fi at a mile-long plastics manufacturing plant.

"We put Cisco access points in so all the shop floor workers and managers can be reached by a single number regardless of where they are. If you walk outside the plant the phone automatically transfers over to the cellular network," said Scheckel. "Before they could only use cellular and the costs were exorbitant. Now they're not absorbing those minutes."

CDW said it has made more than 3,500 unified communications deployments.

iPad anyone?

Given the video capabilities of Apple's forthcoming iPad, Philonenko said he expects it to be among the devices Cisco supports. "From what we know, all the iPhone applications will work," he said, though he admitted the company hasn't gotten any early access to the device to try it out.

But Philonenko also noted that unlike the iPhone, the iPad is not a phone, jokingly holding a notebook up to his ear to underscore the point.

"It's not oriented to the telephone and voice applications. It will have those for sure, but it seems to be more for surfing the Internet and as a book reader," he said. "The form factor dictates capabilities to a certain extent."

In summing up Cisco's support of the mobile landscape, Philonenko said the company is focused on the iPhone, Blackberry and Nokia devices. "Clearly Android is on the horizon and if Windows Mobile reemerges we will be there too. We want to be platform agnostic and make sure the endpoint is not forbidden."

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


iPhone, iPad, Apple, Cisco, unified communications