The Flip camera came on the scene with a bang a few years ago, but now is disappearing with barely a whimper. The easy answer might be that it's been pushed aside by iPhones and iPods, but I think that's only part of the reason.
The Flip was always destined to be a niche product. It's core strength was it's simple interface - while traditional camcorders were feature-packed, Flip was designed for simplicity. Initially conceived as a disposable video camera to be sold at drug and convenience stores, the Flip was the perfect choice for kids, moms or grandparents, not the gadget-focused crowd. With two buttons, limited zoom, and a pop-out USB connector, it was the easiest way to capture video and post it to YouTube.
Cisco acquired Flip creator Pure Digital two years ago for nearly $600m, a deal that didn't make sense to me at the time. It was positioned as a way for Cisco to penetrate the consumer market, but was never something they could integrate with the rest of their business. In theory, anything that drove more consumption of video would be good for the core router business, but that seemed a stretch.
So what happened?
Cisco added little value to the Flip, post-acquisition. Sure, there were deeper pockets funding advertising and distribution, but little else. It would seem that a consumer product company might have been able to drive adoption more effectively.
Any cheap digicam can now produce video comparable to that of the Flip. More importantly, so can many phones. While kids were an attractive target in 2009, today the iPod Touch has become ubiquitous, so there is less need for a dedicated video camera. Gaming devices like the Nintendo DSi have cameras as well, further eroding the market. Meanwhile, the consumer products companies joined the fray. For her 12th birthday, my daughter wanted not a Flip (though she had used mine many times), but rather the Kodak PlaySport. She has an iPod Touch but wanted this as well. The PlaySport is waterproof and comes in purple. What more could a 12-year-old want?
The sad thing is that the Flip could have survived, albeit as a niche offering. Cisco never effectively communicated the value proposition very well. My Panasonic Lumix uses MTS format, requiring conversion to mpg format before posting. The iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch offer video, of course, but the interface remains limited. By focusing on users, Flip could have provided a diferentiated offering.
The Flip was an innovative product and filled a niche when it first launched. But Cisco was never the right home for it, and with so many products offering video as a feature, it's demise should come as little surprise.