RIP Flip

I’ll bet the founders of Pure Digital are smiling this week. Cisco, who bought them and their popular line of Flip handheld cameras, shut down manufacture of the line. After spending $590 million on the company two years ago, Cisco shut them down. There are all kinds of reasons why Cisco might want to do this, but the plain fact is that if the Flip line up was still pulling in the cash it did back in 2009, they would have either kept it or sold it off.

In many ways, this is like Kleenex announcing they will no longer make tissue. I mean, Flip had significant name recognition. people would talk about buying a Flip camera, and mean buying a handheld camera. They made it easy to carry a video camera anywhere, and get good looking video that was easy to share on your computer.

And then they didn’t do anything else. They owned the handheld camera market. And then they stopped innovating, stopped improving. Oh, they released a few new devices. One with a larger screen. A larger capacity Mino. There were lways rumors of new Flips, one that could use WIFI to publish directly to the internet video sharing site of your choice. One that could stream video from the camera. Vaporware.

So, with no real enhancements to entice new purchases, once everyone who wants a Flip has a Flip, how do you make money again? Its not like they are poor quality, they last for years.

And the competition isn’t waiting around. I don’t mean Flip-like handhelds. Most of those are still offering the same features as a Flip. We use the now discontinued (But if you get lucky you can find one) Kodak Zi8 for work. It offered a slightly more “pro” set of features with external power and external audio input. (But most people buying Flip-like camcorders didn’t care about pro features.)

The real competition came from Smart Phones and iPod/Music Players. When Apple introduced the 5th Gen iPod Nano, it had a camera. Steve Jobs even said they were competing with Flip (name recognition). Now, you can capture video on a device that also did something else. A device smaller than the Flip Mino. These were not HD videos yet, but it was the beginning of the end. One generation of devices later, and every Smart Phone and iPod Touch could not only capture HD video, but edit and upload right from the device.

I own a Flip Mino, an iPod Touch, and an iPhone 4. Which of these do you think I will carry if i am trying to lighten the stuff in my pockets? I am letting my kids play with the Flip. I am taking the device that let’s me work and play, capture video, edit and upload. And lately I have been using the video capability through apps that add effects. It just does more than the Flip.

I have a friend who was lamenting the demise of Flip. He loves his Flip. He couldn’t believe they were not going to be available in the future. He pulled out his Flip Ultra HD. It’s the same one he has owned for a couple of years. These are the customers Flip could have capitalized on if they had offered anything worth upgrading to. Give him a Flip with WIFI, and he would have been posting to Youtube in about 3 seconds. Yes, his iPhone could do the same thing, but he likes to use the Flip. he just doesn’t like to use it enough to keep buying new ones that do the exact same thing his current one did.

The death of the Flip is a cautionary tale for every technology company. You cannot sit back with your successful product and expect it to stay successful. You must keep improving.

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