Will we ever find out what happened to Flip Video?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Cisco Killed The Flip Cam A Day Before It Was Going To Get A Cool New Live Broadcast Feature.” Which is pretty frustrating: why kill the unit right before a major upgrade that’s presumably all sunk costs? The WSJ has one possible answer in “After Cisco Sacrifices His Baby to the Gods of Wall Street, Flip Founder Jon Kaplan Speaks!“, where Kara Swisher says that axing Flip was an “effort to assure Wall Street that it was no longer serious about its wacky foray into the consumer market.” But does it have to be so public? So symbolic?

And it is symbolic: Arik Hesseldahl points out that Cisco lumps the revenue from Flip into an “other” category on its financial statements. He then goes on: “This ‘other revenue’ totaled $2.6 billion in Cisco’s fiscal 2010, up from $1.6 billion in fiscal 2009. The biggest single factor for that billion-dollar boost was $317 million in Flip camera sales. You read that right: Cisco just shut down a business that brought in $317 million in sales in its last fiscal year.”

He says, “Make no mistake, the Flip was and is a culturally significant product.” It was, and, as regular readers know, I almost never write about consumer gadgets because most of the time there’s no point and people who write about them are just wasting their breath. But the Flip was fun in that shocking, surprising way that the original iPods were. Gadgets rarely have that effect—they’re as rare, or maybe rarer, as a book that really speaks to me. But a book is forever while gadgets come and go.

I think it’s the pointlessness of closing Flip that annoys me so much. They made a fun product that a corporate leviathan is killing just because it can. Unfortunately, posts like this one aren’t likely to have much of an effect. There’s a Facebook page devoted to saving Flip, but it only has 407 members as of this writing, and, in Cisco terms, that’s indistinguishable from zero.

Still, David Pogue’s post “The Tragic Death of the Flip” has 13 pages of comments, most from people with the same reaction I did. Killing a beloved product is counterproductive, considering how hard it is to develop and sell a beloved product, and I still wonder why Cisco axed instead of sold the company. A hundred million dollars is presumably better than zero. But I’m not sure we’ll ever find out.

EDIT: Some feedback points out that still-video hybrid cameras like Panasonic’s will likely take over Flip’s market. Could be, but I think the two serve different people. Those Panasonic cameras are a lot more expensive and in key ways less fun to use. I have a Canon camera for pictures and while it’s great for what it is, Flips are more approachable and more portable.

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