Defending Avaya

by Dave Michels

Avaya sure looks stupid, their desktop video device is the most expensive tablet on the market. But armchair quarterbacks don’t always see the whole game. 
Eric Krapf in I’m With Stupid discusses the intelligence of a proprietary tablet strategy. Both Avaya and Cisco released their own Android based tablets – ALU, Polycom and others intend to ride general purpose consumer devices.
This is all hindsight. Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb.
These are proverbial battles, keep an eye on the war.
Both Cisco and Avaya deserve some recognition for their efforts and will benefit from a significant head start in Android which just recently became the dominant OS in mobility and looks to stay that way.
Avaya is the primary target because their product is so pricey. But let’s put this in reasonable context. Consider some big picture facts.

  • Products take time to develop
  • The iPad was a runaway success (I didn’t see it and still don’t get it).
  • The first iPad was released in April 2010 – that’s yesterday in terms of product development time. 
  • Avaya is betting a lot on Flare – this wasn’t a new idea a few months ago.
  • A few months ago there was no acceptable hardware on the market to even begin development. Sometimes you have to make it.
  • Android is free
  • Avaya, in particular, is working very hard to be a software company. Most of their manufacturing is outsourced including phones, they use industry standard servers, partner with LifeSize and other vendors for specialized hardware.
  • The problem with being a software vendor is you have to wait for the hardware when dealing with cutting edge, revolutionary devices. Or build it yourself. Waiting has serious ramifications.
  • Most communication firms seem to be running away from, not toward, hardware. Cisco is an exception, but only partially. Avaya seems to have no interest in hardware.
  • The first iPad did not sport a camera. The video capable iPad just recently came out.
  • Android expertise takes time – particularly if your intent is to create a developer ecosystem.
  • Avaya and Cisco both intend to support industry standard “consumer” tablets as a long term strategy – but right now it’s critical to get a foothold in this emerging marketplace. Enterprise grade video acceptable devices are just now hitting the market – Avaya and Cisco have a huge head start.
  • The Avaya Desktop video device with a larger than iPad screen and front facing camera has been on the market far longer than the iPad2.

All that said, the minor investment to bring to market early devices in the tablet space makes a lot of sense. With Android being freely available, and most of the components being off-the-shelf, the development cost was relatively minor and the ability to show/develop/learn/excite in this emerging space seems compelling.
Best case, the products are a hit and the firm continues to make them.

Worst case, the firms lead the industry and sets an initial standard for what will work. They gain critical experience with Android, jump start their developer environments, and reuse almost all of initial app  development on consumer devices while quietly discontinuing their own tablet(s).

The fact is Avaya and Cisco have working tablet video solutions today, not just ideas. Worst case isn’t bad since they didn’t have to develop the OS and the apps will be mostly portable. Meanwhile, they have an early mover benefit over firms that opted to wait for the hardware.

Bottom line, it may look short sighted, but it was likely a calculated risk that didn’t have a lot of downside and some tremendous upside. This is a fast moving emerging area – no one knew what a tablet was or did just over a year ago – or if anyone would want to buy one.

I don’t think Avaya was ever serious about long term plans for its video device. I think it was an instigator – a catalyst for a critical phase of its mobile and video future. Cisco, on the other hand, is probably more serious about the Cius long term. They like hardware and seem more committed to Cisco branded devices. It is priced more reasonably and has some enterprise attraction over consumer devices. Though an upcoming reorganization for Wall St.probably puts the Cius in great peril.

Related: ADVDwAFE