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Cisco has added multiline calling and bot development tools to Cisco Jabber, its unified communications client for instant messaging and presence. The release of Jabber 12.0 underscores the vendor's continued commitment to the on-premises UC client, even as it pushes adoption of its cloud-based team collaboration platform, Cisco Spark.
The Cisco Jabber client now allows users to toggle among up to eight phone extensions on their softphone and to access contact lists even when instant messaging is disabled. Cisco also enabled the integration of Jabber with Android Auto devices, which will allow Android users to listen to instant messages in the car and respond using voice-to-text transcription.
The Jabber Bot SDK should make it easier for developers to build bots to monitor the stock market, communicate with internet-of-things devices or check the status of an order. More advanced bots could use the natural language processing skills of IBM Watson to find and reserve meeting rooms on command.
Cisco remains committed to Cisco Jabber client
More than 50 million people use the Cisco Jabber client, primarily in conjunction with on-premises deployments of Cisco Unified Communications Manager. Cisco has no plans to force users to switch from Jabber to Spark, a meetings-centric, team-based collaboration app with many of the same messaging and calling features.
"We don't see Cisco Spark being the one-stop shop for all of our customers, because we know a lot of our customers want to keep telephony and other aspects of their communication on premises," said Thomas Lambert, the product manager of Cisco Jabber. "Based on that, we need to keep Jabber."
Later in 2018, Cisco expects to enable interoperability between Cisco Jabber on premises and Cisco Spark in the cloud, including one-to-one instant messaging, participation in Spark team spaces, and voice and video conferencing through WebEx. In August 2017, the vendor introduced similar interoperability between Cisco Spark and the limited number of Cisco Jabber users that conduct messaging in the cloud through WebEx.
Cisco has a roadmap for adding many new user-requested features to the Cisco Jabber client over the next several years, including two additional smaller patches planned in 2018, Lambert said. "Spark is a different client that satisfies a different use case," he said.
Cisco, Microsoft diverge on tactics
Cisco and Microsoft are both looking to increase recurring revenue by selling subscriptions to their cloud-based team collaboration platforms, Cisco Spark and Microsoft Teams. The vendors are also facing pressure from competitors like Slack and HipChat, said Brent Kelly, principal analyst at KelCor Inc. in North Logan, Utah.
Microsoft has taken a more aggressive approach than Cisco, announcing in September 2017 that Microsoft Teams would eventually replace Skype for Business. But there are signs the vendor may be softening its stance. Microsoft has yet to announce a drop-dead date for Skype for Businesses in the cloud, and it recently said it would support on-premises deployments for at least five more years, Kelly said.
"I think they're getting some serious pushback from people who are saying that Teams isn't ready, or Teams isn't the right usage model for our workers," Kelly said. "I don't think we're going to see the end of Jabber, and I don't think we're going to see the end of Skype for Business for a long, long time."
The rise of team collaboration apps has further complicated the UC portfolios of many vendors, said Brian Riggs, principal analyst for unified communications at Ovum, based in London. Cisco Spark may be a more strategic long-term investment than Cisco Jabber, but a significant install base of users relies on the latter today, he said.
"It might make sense for Cisco to combine the two at some point, much like Microsoft is in the process of doing with Skype for Business Online and Teams," Riggs said. "But Cisco clearly isn't ready to take that step just yet ... and most of its customers probably aren't, either."