Anand Parthasarathy laments the demise of a mould-breaking, starkly simple camcorder for the rest of us.
Just two years after it acquired the San Francisco company Pure Digital – makers of the Flip camcorder – for nearly $ 600 million, networking leader Cisco, has pulled the plug on the iconic product. An announcement on April 12 says:
“As part of the company's comprehensive plan to align its operations, Cisco.. will exit aspects of its consumer businesses and realign the remaining consumer business to support four of its five key company priorities – core routing, switching and services; collaboration; architectures; and video. As part of its plan, Cisco will close down its Flip business and support current FlipShare customers and partners with a transition plan…” .
First launched in 2006, Flip quickly became the best selling non-professional video camera, thanks to the stark simplicity of its controls – and a USB connector that ‘flipped’ open at the touch of a button. The most popular model, the Flip Ultra HD, recorded for up to two hours in 720p high definition. Made-for-dummies controls, anti-shake features, a sensitive built-in mike and a 3x zoom, endeared it to millions of lay users who were put off by the complicated controls of competing handycams.
Its acquisition by Cisco surprised many industry watchers -- the product seemed to have no fit with the company’s networking mainline. But many thought Cisco would build in Internet connectivity – a feature that the Flip lacked, and in which it lost out to many emerging video-capable smart-phones including the iPhone 3GS. Indeed, bloggers crying ‘foul’ after Cisco’s death sentence for the Flip say the company had in fact scheduled press events to announce a ‘connected’ version, only to cancel at the last minute. The Flip was unavailable in India, till the Cisco buy-out -- and even then, the company made no efforts to push the product which was pricier here at Rs 10,000 or so, when compared to the US dollar price of around $ 150. Indian fans of the product, mostly heard of the Flip from friends in the West and bought them on trips abroad. A personal note: I was first introduced to the Flip by Pankaj Jindal, gadget freak and President of the software product development company Aditi, when I interviewed him in Bangalore two years ago. Having coveted the device from afar, I was fortunate to be presented the Flip Ultra HD during a media event in the US last year, by a Cloud services leader who encouraged delegates to use the camera to post their videos on the event website. I
It turned out to be a lifesaver for me. I was booked to interview, Vijay Pullar, the Mountain View ( California) -based President of Pramati Technologies, another innovative Indian-talent-fuelled company, the very next day after I got my hands on the Flip. With help from his colleague Samir Ghosh, we used the Flip to generate a video clip of the interview. The image quality was amazing for such a handy device – and the producers of the “IT For All” TV show that I do weekly, said the clips I brought back was good enough, to meet broadcast standards and was duly ploughed into the item about Pramati. Another fallout: Vijay wrote a few weeks later to say, encouraged by seeing my Flip in use, he had bought himself the Mino HD -- the latest version of the Flip!
I will continue to use my Flip to capture good quality video without fuss or hassle – and I have learnt to work within its limitations: you need to be up close, to the subject to get clear audio recorded and the zoom is rather limited.
But for millions of Flip fans like me, Cisco’s killing off, while possibly a pragmatic business decision in an era when smart phones are already providing almost similar functionality, will seem like a brutal execution of a key product milestone in the relentless march of personal technology. (The Flip’s nearest competitors came from Kodak, which continues to market the full HD ( 1080p) PlaySport and Play Touch at around $ 180. However, the lack of a wireless upload feature remains a deterrent to those who want to post instantly to You Tube. Smart Phones will increasingly fill this gap).