Computer networking giant Cisco announced today that it will close down its Flip camcorder business, a company it bought less than two years ago. Cisco plans to restructure and focus more on its home networking business.
Prior to its takeover by Cisco in 2009, Pure Digital, the original manufacturer of Flip camcorders, had turned a stagnant and fragmented camcorder market upside-down. Before it introduced the Flip in early 2006, camcorders were mostly full-size devices and cost at least $250 to $300; many were in the range of $500 to $1000. The majority of camcorder models used miniDV tape for storage and were big and bulky, with lots of buttons and controls. Smaller pocket models were available, but they were generally as complicated to use as the full-size models, and they were pricey.
Pure Digital's strategy was simple and direct: Make camcorders easy to use and cheap. The first Flip cost about $120. It was standard definition (VGA-quality) with 512MB of built-in Flash memory, had no optical zoom (the first had 2x digital zoom), and included a built-in USB connector. For its interface, the first Flip camcorder featured one big red button, surrounded by several gray buttons, underneath a small 1.5-inch LCD. The Flip's software started up automatically when you connected your Flip to the computer, to share your video or burn it to a DVD.
This simplicity was key to Pure Digital's success: You didn't need to fumble around to start shooting your video; just press the red button. The software was intuitive to use, too. The Flip pocket camcorders may have not been the best-quality devices, but for most consumers, they were infinitely easier to use than full-size models. And they were much easier on the budget.
Not surprisingly, the camcorder industry took notice. Today, most full-size camcorders use Flash memory to store video and still images (either on memory cards or internally). Most are also about half the size and weight they were in 2005. And nearly every major camcorder manufacturer has at least one pocket model, if not several. For example, this year, Sony introduced three pocket camcorders at CES, including a 3D model and one with two LCDs on it.
Check out our camcorder buying guide to see which kind might be right for you.