While Flip pioneered and benefited from its differentiated focus on sharing video, its take on two sharing scenarios fell flat. The first was its TV bridge, the $100 FlipShareTV, which tried to cater to those without a home network by including a fat USB transmitter. Unfortunately, that dongle needed to be connected to a PC or Mac, in order to send video to a box that worked only with FlipShare software, making things unnecessarily difficult.
The lesson: if you're going to lock in consumers, it's best to build a prison that people will want to move into anyway.
Another was on-the-go one-on-one sharing of the same screen like a palm-sized miniature theater, which was attempted by the Flip Slide HD
. But the $230 Slide HD was thick, expensive, and its touch implementation compared poorly with those of later, cheaper competitors such as the Sony Bloggie Touch
and Kodak PlayTouch
. Then there was FlipPort, a classic lock-in attempt that aspired to rival Apple's dock connector but attracted even fewer add-on products than the old Springboard connector for Handspring's Visor PDA. The lesson: if you're going to lock in consumers, it's best to build a prison that people will want to move into anyway.
While none of these miscues sunk Flip, they all demonstrated how the product was stuck betwen a slab and two hard places -- the slab being subsidized smartphones that increasingly could do more with video; the first hard place being the high-end market of camcorders with manual white balance adjustment controls offending the Flip minimalism ideal; and the second hard place being the integration into Cisco's networked world. Had the Flip lived another month, we might have at least seen integrated WiFi, a key step toward progress on that front.
The Flip had a strong run for a longshot device and would all but certainly have years ahead of it in the hands of a more aligned owner. Cisco spent heavily promoting the camcorder during the 2009 and 2010 holiday seasons, asking consumers the question, "Do you flip"? Cisco surely did.
Next week's Switched On will look at the legacy of the Flip, which not only turned the camcorder category upside-down but has had implications for other tech companies as well, from startups to Fortune 500 firms.
Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.