Life in the technology jungle: the salutary tale of the Flip

This morning’s Observer column.

The Flip was a delicious example of clean, functional design and it sold like hot cakes. From the first day it appeared on Amazon it was the site's bestselling camcorder, and eventually captured 35% of the camcorder market. I bought one as soon as it appeared in the UK, and soon found that my friends and colleagues were eyeing it enviously. One – a keen tennis player – bought one along with an ingenious bendy tripod called a Gorillapod and mounted it on the fence at the court where he was having lessons with his coach. (The coach was not impressed.) Another friend, this time a golfer, bought one and used it to analyse his swing when practising at the driving range. Thousands of YouTube videos were produced using Flips. It was what technology pundits call a “game changer”.

In March 2009 the giant networking company Cisco astonished the world by buying Pure Digital Technologies, the developer of the Flip, for $590m. This seemed weird because Cisco doesn’t do retail: it’s the company that provides the digital plumbing for the internet. It deals only with businesses. It was as if BP had suddenly announced that it was going into the perfume business. But, hey, we thought: maybe Cisco is getting cool in its old age.

How wrong can you be? Just over a week ago, Cisco announced that it was shutting down its Flip video camera division and making 550 people redundant. Just like that…