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Services & Apps

Gemini IP Camera Viewer

This is a $4.99 app that, according to the app store, currently only supports only the Linksys WVC80N and the D-Link DCS-2130 cameras.  Since I don’t own either of these and since many cameras have dedicated mobile apps, I didn’t download and test this app.

Twonky Video

Cisco's Smart Wi-Fi Apps list (Figure 20) shows this app as available only on Android.  But the iOS App Store shows Twonky Video, Twonky Beam and Twonky Mobile all available as iPhone apps and Beam as both iPad and iPhone apps. The three apps provide somewhat overlapping features and all three worked on a test iPad.

Video doesn't appear to support playing content from the EA router, instead providing access to only pre-selected internet-based Channels. Mobile can connect to the EA (and any other DLNA server) and either play the content on the iPad or beam it to an AppleTV or players like Logitech's Squeezebox (for audio).

Beam (Figure 24) looks like the best bet since it provides access to Video's internet-based content.

Twonky Beam on iPad

Figure 24: Twonky Beam on iPad

You can also attach to the EA or any other DLNA server to play or beam content (Figure 25).

Twonky Beam DLNA server selection

Figure 25: Twonky Beam DLNA server selection

Device Monitoring

The app doesn’t appear in the app store searching for either Cisco Connect Cloud or by its stated name.  Cisco advised that Apple was requesting different name so check back at http://home.cisco.com.  The application is slated to be available "soon" with a different name.

netproofer

Like the Android version, this $0.99 app provides a simple interface for setting parental controls on Cisco App-Enabled routers.  However, after installing it, it gave me an error message as shown in Figure 26.  I tried to connect multiple times over the course of two days. Reviewers in the Apple app store also noted this problem. 

netproofer login error

Figure 26: Error message encountered when logging into netproofer through the Cisco Connect Cloud interface

A day later, I tried to connect again and finally was successful.  Perhaps there was a server side issue that was resolved.  Figure 27 shows the landing screen that you see after logging in via your Cisco Connect Cloud account.  From this screen, you can add additional web sites to block.

netproofer home screen

Figure 27: netproofer home screen

If you tap on any of the “>” on the right side of the screen, you are taken to a screen that shows the hosts on your network. (Figure 28).  Here, you can decide to block or unblock a host.  I blocked Amazon.com for my iPad and then tried to go to the site.  Indeed, I was blocked.  My complaint is that On/Off is a bit confusing – I would have preferred to see Block/Unblock.  Only after I tested, did I discover that Off=Blocked.

Another ding for netproofer is that it doesn't provide access to the other parental controls function, internet access schedules.

netproofer host block

Figure 28: After selecting Amazon.com from the home page, this screen lets you block for specific hosts.

I suppose for 99 cents you shouldn't expect miracles. But netproofer really provides no functions that you can't get via the CCC web interface--at least on non-Android devices.

Final Thoughts

Cisco Connect Cloud mostly succeeds at its goal of simplifying setup and administrative access for a consumer router. It enables you to control your network(s) from virtually anywhere. And setup should be easy for even the least tech-savvy user, even those with combination modem/routers forced on them by their ISPs.

For more complex network configurations or remote admin access, there is no need to set up port forwarding or dynamic DNS to make CCC work. Like Skype, it gets through even multiple layers of NAT firewalls so that you can always see what's up on your network.

Although I liked the simplicity and UI of the CCC apps, I would have preferred to also have the option of access through my Android browser so that I could access all admin features. If this can be done on iOS, it should also be possible on Android. Better yet, both iOS and Android CCC apps should be updated to provide full admin access.

The responsiveness and reliability of CCC's cloud-based administration also needs to improve. There are multiple complaints of slow response from the admin GUI in the Cisco Home Community Forum. And as I write this, multiple attempts to reach the Troubleshooting admin page are met with only a spinning Waiting box. Many consumers are already wary of depending on a working internet connection to be able to control something whose purpose is to provide that very connection! All they need is a few experiences of connection problems and / or admin page delays and they'll fall back to the non-CCC firmware or maybe simply return their router.

CCC's other key feature is that it allows management of any CCC-enabled router that you are given permission to access. All you need to do is add the router to your CCC account, at least that's the theory. Cisco demoed this feature during its press briefings back in March. But there is currently no way to add routers to a CCC account visible in the CCC interface and I wasn't able to find any instructions on how to do this in the CCC support page.

The "app-enabled" side of CCC has its own set of problems. The list of six third-party apps hasn't changed since product introduction in April and the apps themselves are no beauties, as you can see from the walkthroughs above. Of the six apps I looked at, none of them are keepers, free or not. And since CCC provides remote access to your router from virtually anywhere, I was disappointed that the only remote file access provided is via FTP. Perhaps Cisco is leaving HTTPS access to a third party app that some developer will create.

Cisco really needs to raise the level of its game on the apps side or the CCC platform will fail before it can even get started. Cisco already had to back off its CCC-only approach for the EA series and provide a non-CCC admin interface. But buyers opting out of CCC are currently frozen at a March 2012 dated firmware and will remain there until Cisco finishes implementing a "dual-track" firmware process at a yet undetermined date.

In all, Cisco Connect Cloud has had a rough start and shows no sign of becoming the runaway hit that Cisco hopes it will be. CCC might be a nice bonus if you've already decided that a Cisco EA router is the one for you based on its features and performance. But Cisco Connect Cloud is certainly not compelling enough to be a primary influence on router selection.

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