The demise of the Flip video camera reads like the opening of a great murder mystery—or at least a decent Law and Order episode. Someone (or in this case, something) has been killed, there are a few suspects, but very few clues.
Or, more accurately, we know who done it: Cisco Systems Inc., the Silicon Valley networking gear giant that set its sights on the consumer video market and forked over $590 million to acquire Pure Digital Inc., the inventor of the Flip, in 2009. What we don't have, and what very few people appear to have even sound theories on, is motive.
Clearly, Cisco wanted out of a consumer business that it never really understood and that offered pitiful margins compared with Cisco's big ticket networking gear. (As evidence, several analysts cite the flop of Cisco's Umi video conferencing devices, which carried a price tag—$600 plus $25 per month for service—that many felt was untenable.) But the company's decision to pull the plug on the Flip business—rather than sell it off—has many people scratching their heads.
The Flip, which first hit the market under that name in 2007, is currently the No. 1 selling camcorder on Amazon.com—the black Flip UltraHD, that is. A total of four Flip models are among the top 10 selling camcorders on Amazon. According to the New York Times, a total of 7 million Flip camcorders have been sold to date and Cisco itself claimed that Flip represented 35 percent of the camcorder market.
"At the end of the day, they were selling quite a few of these things," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at market research firm Gartner Inc.
But despite this impressive positioning, it's pretty clear that nobody would have paid Cisco anywhere near $590 million to acquire the Flip business—and here is where our chief suspect, smartphone convergence, comes in. The market for camcorders, especially small, mobile camcorders like the Flip, is on the wane. In fact, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli, overall camcorder shipments have been relatively stagnant since at least 2003—the firm projects that in 2012 about 17.2 million camcorders will ship worldwide, compared to about 17.3 million in 2003.
Analysts have long warned that gadgets that specialize in one thing would be threatened by the convergence of devices that can do several things. Smartphones are the biggest thug, growing enormously in popularity and—in a competition for marketshare among each other—rapidly adding new functionality. The fact of the matter is that nearly everyone who packs a smartphone today—and even more so a year or two from now—is already lugging around a pocket-sized device that shoots video of comparable or better quality than the Flip.
Even so, someone would have paid something for the Flip business, which would have included a market-leading product, a lauded brand and a creative team of designers who shocked the world once and, who knows, could do it again.
Flip was also facing competition from still cameras. More and more of them have a setting for video. Maybe Cisco didn't want to get sucked into a cutthroat digital camera market and found the tax writeoff more palatable. If the death of Flip opens a niche, surely someone will step in to fill it.
There are plenty of parallels to use as a comparison and predictor of the future of the stand-alone video recorder / camera / other device vs. the all-in-one smart phone.
In the music and video playback market, you can buy components or self-contained systems. In the computer world, you can buy individual components or all-in-one units. Yes, it is jack of all trades and master of none. That's not good enough for a lot of people, but it is good enough for quite a few people.
If you need pro-quality of any of the specific capabilities, you will likely buy a stand-alone version of that. If the quality offered in a smart-phone is good enough for you, then you'll likely go for the convenience of the smart phone.
In terms of quality, a lot of people talk about the limited quality of many of the camera phones. Again, take a step back a few years. There were high-quality 35mm and larger format cameras. There were also plenty of point-and-shoot moderate quality 35mm cameras, 110, 126 and Polaroid cameras sold. Compare the quality of the latter four and you'll probably come out at about a 1 Mpixel or lower digital equivalent.
Any true professional would balk at using a smatphone for all their needs.
A professional photographer would use a very high end digital camera or still use emulsion when blowing up pictures to larger sizes. Recording video on a smartphone is akin to those grainy & shaky videos on youtube. If you want real quality, you'd use a dedicated video device.
Wired magazine had an article on "good enough" technology about a year ago. It detailed nicely how we've given up quality for the sake of convenience. Smartphones fall perfectly into that category. They do many things that are good enough to be acceptable to many users but they do not excel at any single task. I've never owned a Flip, but it appears it was a single task device that was on the top of its market.
Apparently none of the items you mentioned have been enough to convince teens to wear watches. They've pretty much switched to cell phones. Oh, and they don't like to answer their phones either. Texting has pretty much replaced talking.
OK, but one must keep in mind that more pixels come at a price: smaller pixels. This in turn means less charge to be accumulated, therefore lower signal to thermal noise ratio and very much smaller dynamic range. In other words, poorer images. Also, larger prints are viewed from a longer distance, so resolution matters less. The only place where higher resolution is really necessary and where the above price is (somewhat) tolerable is in reconnaissance. There one looks at every pixel. Hardly the situation in a phone camera.
There is a valid point hiding in your post, but obscured by overstating it. Sometimes you want to print an 8"x10" and frame it. Sometimes you just want to zoom in on an image and see more detail. 1MP won't be good for either of those. But 6MP probably would be. 12MP certainly would be. And: what you do with extra pixels on a 4x6 print is average them together to reduce visible noise. It's much easier to reduce noise on a 12MP image without losing significant detail than on a much lower resolution image, where the noise features are about the same size as the details of the image.
Me too ... when my watch is between batteries ... but then you have to remember to put the cel on vibrate in meetings.
Also, the "access time" of a cel phone is longer, you have to take it out of your pocket rather than just looking at your wrist. So again, the simple, single-function device is superior to the expensive multifunction device for the particular job it does!
Interesting article. It is ever thus in this industry. We saw this decades ago with multifunction devices combining printing, copying, faxing, and scanning. Smartphones eat at the margins in real ways as will tablets as they catch hold in both the business and consumer spaces.
Notebook and Desktop manufacturers should be heeding the warning signals playing out in the smartphone convergence use case. It's coming to their space as well.
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