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Avaya Unveils "MoJo" Android-Based Tablet, WebOS-Like Software For Business Calls
September 15, 2010 | Howard Lichtman
By ELIZABETH WOYKE, Forbes
Looking to solidify its dominance in the business communications market, Avaya on Wednesday unveiled a tablet device and new software designed to unite phone calls, instant messages and video conferencing in one easy-to-use platform.
The software, called Flare, is the telecom systems provider's latest vision of unified communications or UC. The tablet, which bears the clunky name of Avaya Desktop Video Device, is one way that users will be able to tap into Flare. Eventually, Avaya plans to make Flare available on a range of devices, including computers, smartphones, office phones and larger, room-based video conferencing systems.
Flare, which is available for order as of today, looks something like a business-focused version of Palm's webOS operating system. A list of contacts-pulled from Microsoft Outlook, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Skype-dominates the right side of the screen. On Avaya's video device, which has an 11.5-inch touch-screen, users can scroll through the contacts with their fingers, spinning the list like a virtual Rolodex. Each contact is represented as a rectangular "card", reminiscent of the card system in webOS.
The cards contain much more than contact information. They can host pictures from a person's Facebook profile, indicate "presence", i.e. an indication that the person is available to talk or text and store a history of communications, such as recent emails and call logs.
To initiate a conversation or call, users drag one or several cards into a "spotlight" in the center of the screen and select a mode: voice, video or messaging. Flare can support up to 5 conversation spotlights and multiple modes within conversations. Participants in a conference call could, for instance, branch off to have an instant messaging conversation in a small group, then return to the larger group without interruption. The spotlight setup, meanwhile, makes it as easy to initiate a video call as a regular call; simply drag a contact into a spotlight, select video mode and a video screen pops up, similar to the way Skype operates on computers.
While plenty of other unified communications (UC) services exist, Avaya says Flare is more efficient and fun to use than its competition. During the company's Wednesday press conference in New York City, Chief Executive Kevin Kennedy said Flare delivers high-definition voice and video service at one-third the cost of comparable systems and takes up 50% less bandwidth. The company also claims that customers will see increased productivity-up to 10 times their current rates-because Flare removes many common business communications hassles.
Though Avaya refrained from uttering Cisco's name during its event, industry watchers believe the new video collaboration products are an attempt to fend off the networking giant. Avaya has long led in global UC sales-Dell'Oro Group analyst Alan Weckel estimates it had 26% of the market in the second quarter of 2010-but Cisco has been leveraging its data networking strength to muscle in. Cisco's Telepresence technology means it is more closely associated with videoconferencing than Avaya and it already offers a business-focused tablet-the Cius, which debuted in June.
Avaya would rather compare itself to Apple than Cisco. During the press conference, Kennedy predicted that Flare and the Video Device would "revolutionize" the world of business collaborations in the same way Apple revitalized the consumer applications market with its iPhone and iPad.
Analysts were upbeat about Avaya's announcement, but noted that cost and limited functionality could affect sales. "No one's seen anything like this in business communications," said Brian Riggs, a research director at Current Analysis. "It definitely changes the way business users can communicate."
With an estimated price of $2,000 per unit, the Video Device is twice the price of the Cius, however, and four times more expensive than the cheapest iPad. "The cost makes the device more a toy for executives than something for, say, entire groups of engineers to use," said Riggs. Flare can succeed, he added, as long as it is made available on a range of more affordable devices.
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