Cisco Kills the Flip Camera, Consumers Ask Why

The death of the Flip is a good lesson in how the technology industry really works, and how your interests as a consumer of technology are not always the same as that of Cisco or other Silicon Valley giants.

There I was at the San Francisco Giants game the other evening, when my buddy decided to do something a bit silly — but memorable — and handed me his little Flip camera. I'm not going to share the YouTube link, but the video is pretty good, considering the lighting was weird and it was a very chaotic environment. There's no way that I would have done nearly as well with my iPhone.

Why am I telling you this? As you likely know, Cisco surprised the world last week with its announcement that it is killing the popular little video cam and, oh yes, firing 550 people. The death of the Flip is a good lesson in how the technology industry really works, and how your interests as a consumer of technology are not always the same as that of Cisco or other Silicon Valley giants.

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But first, some good news. Unlike the void that occurs when your favorite TV program is killed (I'm still mourning the death of Lights Out on FX) the Flip is still around. If you own one, it will remain useful for years, and it appears that Cisco is going to continue support and service for some period. (As I write this, the details have not been announced.)

If you don't own one, there are plenty to be had at Amazon and on eBay, though I'd expect prices to increase as stocks of newly manufactured Flips start to dwindle.

And it turns out that there are a few alternative to the Flip. I haven't had a chance to test these myself, but I've have heard and read good things about a few models by Sony and Toshiba.

• Sony's line of Bloggie cameras start with a basic model and move up in features to include a touchscreen, dual screens on the front and back, and a 3D version. Prices range from $149 for a basic model to $249 for a version that lets you create 3D videos.

• Kodak's Playsport ($127 to $170) sports a rugged design that the company says will resist, dust, water and vibration. Indeed, it's supposed to be waterproof as far below the surface as 10 feet.

That's not to say that personal video cams by other makers aren't up to snuff; I simply haven't checked them out.

Smartphones Really to Blame?

The quick take by a lot of pundits was that the culprit in the death of the Flip was the smartphone. That sounds good, as does the line of thinking that says, people don't want to carry multiple devices, so even if the cameras on the iPhone or Android aren't great, they're plenty good enough.

Well, not exactly. Sales of the Flip remained strong right up until the end. There's some dispute over its share of the camcorder market, with Cisco claiming 35 percent (according to David Pogue of the New York Times) and various analysts estimating about 17 percent. In any case, it was the leader of a category that was continuing to grow, albeit not as fast as in the past.

Despite the hoopla about smartphones, there aren't really that many around, at least compared to the more basic cell phones carried by masses of people all over the world. And that means there were still plenty of people who could buy the Flip without feeling like they were duplicating features they already had.

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