The rumors have been floating for a while, but on Thursday Cisco announced what many expected to happen for some time: The company is offloading its consumer networking unit, Linksys.
This brings to a close a decadelong misadventure by the networking giant into the consumer space. It’s not that Cisco didn’t have some smart people in its consumer group. But as a whole, consumer was always a second language for a company that is enterprise to its core.
Let’s take a quick walk down memory lane of Cisco consumer, shall we? Here are just a few examples of the efforts by Cisco in the consumer space:
Flip. Everyone loved Flip cameras when they first came out, because the devices took a technology that was not entirely easy for mainstream users and made it extremely easy. The only problem was that by the time Cisco bought Flip’s parent company, Pure Digital, Apple already had designs on making its phone just as easy to use with HD video capture devices, and we all know how that ended up.
Valet. What happens when Flip and Linksys have a baby? You get Valet routers. One of the reasons for Cisco’s half a billion acquisition of Pure Digital was its management team and consumer expertise. Valet would be the most visible influence of this supposedly powerful combination, which tried to take a complex overall setup process — setting up a home network — and Flipify it through an easy to use, couple-click setup process. The problem? It abandoned the Linksys brand, which in the end was the much stronger in a mature market. After a year or so Cisco gave up.
KiSS. In 2005, just a couple of years after the acquisition of Linksys, Cisco acquired KiSS Technologies, a company that made home networked entertainment devices like networked DVD players. At the time, there was a lot of talk by Cisco and Linksys about their eventual plan to push out entertainment networking devices using KiSS technology — and they did announce a few devices here and there — but ultimately the company got sidetracked with the help of . . .
Microsoft Media Center Extenders. In a sense, I blame Microsoft for some of Linksys’ problems in the living room, as it led Linksys/Cisco down the Media Center extender path. In retrospect, the entire PC-as-media-hub move was an ill-fated one, given the proliferation of low-cost connections on CE devices, the adoption of broadband, and advances in media streaming, but Microsoft and Linksys didn’t do themselves any favors by pricing these things at $300 or so.
Media Hub. The home server is another category that really saw no big winners — HP, Microsoft, and a few others ultimately mostly gave up on the category — and Cisco/Linksys was no exception. The company did try and gave up pretty quickly here, as was also the case with . . .
Audio Music Receivers. Yes, Cisco even tried to do networked music. It wasn’t such a bad idea as it sounds, given the strong appeal of Sonos and Logitech networked audio systems, as well as the slow move into networked audio by the larger stereo players such as Sony and Panasonic. The only problem was that these clearly were not Sonos-like devices, which makes you wonder why Cisco didn’t just take some of the $500 million it had spent on Pure and buy Sonos instead (even though I am sure Sonos’ founder, John McFarlane, would have probably laughed at the suggestion).
Umi. Of course, we couldn’t talk Cisco consumer without talking John Chambers’ personal favorite, Umi. I remember hearing Chambers talk about Umi with such excitement at the time it was announced, so I am sure it hurt when it shut the unit down just a year or two later. Of all the failed consumer efforts by Cisco, Umi best exemplified the lack of native instincts the company had for consumer: a $400 price point for a device with a recurring subscription price of $25 per month, at a time when almost-free alternatives like Skype were clearly on their way to the living room.
Could Cisco ever really been a contender in consumer? Maybe. But in the end, I think their enterprise roots and tin ear for consumer messaging was always a problem.
But now it doesn’t matter. With the sale of Linksys to Belkin, Cisco’s decade-plus consumer market misadventure has come to an end.