Yesterday, Cisco announced that it would be closing down its Flip camera operations as part of an effort to refocus on the company’s core business. Cisco bought Flip a mere two years ago and quickly made it the most recognizable brand of consumer HD video cameras. Suddenly, every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Mary, too) could record their kids, vacations and random acts of police brutality in 720p HD video. Travelers embraced the Flip because it was small, had no extra components to pack and allowed them to record their trips in stunning HD. Well, stunning assuming that the conditions were perfect (read: well lit and no background noise). However, as more and more smartphones and consumer cameras added HD video capabilities, the idea of having a second video device quickly became archaic. Why tote around a Flip when your DSLR, point and shoot or, heck, even your phone can do the exact same thing? And, with one simple press release yesterday, Cisco pulled the plug on the Flip. It burned hot, it burned quickly and now it’s gone. But, does anyone care?I own a Flip. Many of the videos that I have recorded for Gadling were made using the Flip. However, I always recognized and bemoaned the tiny camera’s limitations. The editing software that was bundled with the Flip was useless. I always deferred to iMovie and, more recently, Final Cut Pro. The internal microphone on the Flip was abysmal. It required you to be uncomfortably close to the camera or to speak in an unnaturally high volume. The lack of a port for an external microphone was an issue that users complained about from the Flip’s inception. The Flip also necessitated optimal lighting conditions to record anything even close to watchable.
All of that said, for your average traveler, the Flip was a revelation. When the conditions were right, consumers could record lasting memories in a quality never before imaginable to anyone other than professional videographers. The Flip was affordable, tiny and simple to operate. Sadly, it never evolved while other segments of the technology market surpassed it.
If you’re looking to point fingers in the death of the Flip (and don’t feel like blaming it entirely on Cisco’s poor management of the brand), look no further than the iPhone 4. Apple put an HD camcorder inside its already popular smartphone and showed that merging all of your key portable devices did not require sacrificing any single one of them (except for maybe call quality in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco…but that’s another story). Now, Android phones have HD, consumers are more comfortable upgrading to DSLR cameras that shoot HD and many point and shoots, including the popular Canon S95, put HD video in the palms of people’s hands. And since travelers rarely want to carry extra gear, the Flip, that simple unitasker, is no longer necessary.
Would phones and consumer cameras have upgraded to HD video as quickly as they did if the Flip hadn’t become so popular? It’s hard to say. The Flip certainly did change people’s thinking about video quality and made HD a consumer standard rather than just the professional standard. Cisco, it seems, was either lazy or unmotivated. Other companies with handheld HD video cameras such as Kodak never seemed interested in pushing their products through marketing the way that Cisco did in recent years. Perhaps they realized that the market for pocket HD video cameras had a ceiling and that it was reached almost immediately.
Are travelers sad to see the Flip go? Probably not. Cisco says that their transition plan will support current Flip customers. However, most people who are now interested in taking better videos – people who may have been inspired by using the Flip – have probably already moved on to a new product. Most likely, their phone and/or camera already does what the Flip did for them before.
In the history of travel gear, the Flip is but a blip. Its influence, however, may be underrated. We can all shoot in HD now. Most of our trip videos are still boring and poorly edited, but boy do they look sharp.