Flip Video fizzles out of production

Less than five years after it became one of the most popular video cameras in the world, Cisco Systems announced last week it will end production of the Flip Video camcorder.

Cisco, which bought Flip creator Pure Digital Technologies for $590 million in March 2009, announced the move as part of a restructuring of its consumer business. Cisco primarily sells computer-networking equipment, and has struggled in attempts to enter consumer markets.

The Flip, which gained popularity in 2007 due to its portability and ease of use, was the leader in a growing market for small, simplistic video cameras. But that market has increasingly been taken over by smart phones, which often boast all the same features and more.

While the Flip remains widely used, it has lost the unique advantages that first made it successful, said Steven Lysonski, a professor of marketing.

“Their technology was current and useful until smart phones drastically altered this sector,” Lysonski said in an e-mail.

Beyond its portability and ease of use, the Flip touted features like high-definition video and the ability to share video easily. But smart phones, many of which can now record in high definition, made video sharing even easier with the help of wireless networks.

Smart phones also have bigger screens than those found on Flips, and many have built-in editing tools as well.

The prices of the various models also played a role in the Flip’s decline, said Iqbal Ahamed, an associate professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science, in an e-mail.

The Flip, which featured Ultra, Mino and Slide models with storage ranging from 4 GB to 16 GB, cost between $109 and $230. Smart phones are usually priced similarly, but offer many more features besides recording video.

The Flip does offer some advantages over smart phones when it comes to serious video editing, said Ryan Nealon, a freshman in the College of Health Sciences who owns both a Flip and an iPhone.

“They’ve both got great video (quality), and the iPhone is just as clear as the Flip,” Nealon said. “But in terms of creating a video, I prefer the Flip, because you can just download it to any computer and edit it there. With the iPhone, you have to either have a Mac or have a specific program.”

In hindsight, analysts have questioned Cisco’s decision to buy Pure Digital in the first place. Some suggest that Cisco focused too much on improving the Flip’s video quality and not enough on making it easier to share recorded video online.

But Ahamed said the decision may not have been a bad one, just a shortsighted one.

“It was a good move at that time,” Ahamed said. “Now, it’s time to use the Flip technology with other products.”

The speed at which the Flip rose and fell may be shocking to some, Lysonski said, but it must be expected in today’s technology industries.

“The Flip was a darling product,” Lysonski said. “How could it crash so quickly, we can ask?”

He said the answer lies in the short life cycles of new technologies, and the inability of Cisco to adapt to a rapidly changing market.

“The adage ‘adapt or die’ clearly applies to Cisco’s experiences with the Flip,” Lysonski said.