David Pogue has an interesting take on Cisco’s decision to kill the Flip.
Gizmodo puts it, “Cisco just axed Flip, yeah, but the blame should be aimed squarely at the smartphone in your pocket.”
Which sounds logical—until you realize there is a far more satisfying explanation.
First, app phones like the iPhone represent only a few percent of cellphone sales. You know who buys app phones? Affluent, East Coast/West Coast, educated, New York Times-reading, Gizmodo-writing Americans.
But most of the world doesn’t buy iPhones. Of the 1 billion cellphones sold annually, a few million are iPhones. The masses still have regular cellphones that don’t capture video, let alone hi-def video. They’re the people who buy Flip camcorders. It’s wayyyyyy too soon for app phones to have killed off the camcorder.
Second, it isn’t true at all that nobody’s buying Flip camcorders. So far, 7 million people have bought them. Only a month ago, I was briefed by a Flip product manager on the newest model, which was to hit the market yesterday. He showed me a graph of the Flip’s sales; Flips now represent an astonishing 35 percent of the camcorder market. They’re the No. 1 bestselling camcorder on Amazon. They’re still selling fast.
Look at it this way: There are plenty of Flip copycats, from Kodak and other companies. They have only a fraction of the Flip’s popularity, but you don’t see them shutting down.
So why did Cisco kill off the flip?
I’ve spoken to a bunch of people in the industry, trying, in my human way, to figure out the logic here. It seems clear that Cisco, whose primary focus is making networking equipment for businesses, was all excited about getting into the consumer electronics game; that’s why it spent $590 million on Flip. But then, as John Chambers, Cisco’s chief executive, put it, the company decided to make “key, targeted moves as we align operations in support of our network-centric platform strategy.”
Which, in English, means, “We had no clue what we were doing.”
All right, fine. Cisco bit of more than it could chew. But why is it killing the Flip and not selling it?
The most plausible reason is that Cisco wants the technology in the Flip more than it wants the business. Cisco is, after all, in the videoconferencing business, and the Flip’s video quality—for its size and price—was amazing. Maybe, in fact, that was Cisco’s plan all along. Buy the beloved Flip for its technology, then shut it down and fire 550 people.
And here’s something we didn’t know:
But there’s a second part of the tragedy, too, something that nobody knows. That new Flip that the product manager showed me was astonishing. It was called FlipLive, and it added one powerful new feature to the standard Flip: live broadcasting to the Internet.
That is, when you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot, the entire world can see what you’re filming. You can post a link to Twitter or Facebook, or send an e-mail link to friends. Anyone who clicks the link can see what you’re seeing, in real time—thousands of people at once.
Think how amazing that would be. The world could tune in, live, to join you in watching concerts. Shuttle launches. The plane in the Hudson. College lectures. Apple keynote speeches.
Or your relative could join you for smaller, more personal events: weddings. Birthday parties. Graduations. First steps.
And the FlipLive was supposed to ship yesterday. April 13. The day after Cisco killed the Flip.