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Flip Founder: People Still Want Single Purpose Devices

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Jonathan Kaplan, CEO & Founder of San Francisco-based Pure Digital, the company behind the iconic Flip video recorder believes that neither the rise of the smartphone nor the Flip’s lack of connectivity killed the device. Instead, it was a corporate decision made by Cisco Systems, which is moving away from its consumer-centric push.

“What was good for Flip and the Flip team is not the same for Cisco’s shareholders,” he observed, declining to speculate on why Cisco changed its attitudes towards the consumer. When asked to explain why Cisco killed the Flip, he pointed out that it was part of Cisco’s overall strategy but he couldn’t comment on why Cisco had done it, since he no longer worked for the company. Kaplan said that the Flip brand is still very strong, and he has received thousands of emails from Flip owners wondering about Flip’s future.

Kaplan said he doesn’t know, but at the same time he said that he doesn’t believe that the smartphone is killing the Flip. “Cellphones will take high quality photos and videos but they are a different use case and billions of dollars can be generated in revenues from single purpose devices,” he added. They are both different use-case scenarios.

Hoever, from my perspective, in order for a device to thrive in today’s crowded marketplace it needs to have connectivity — that connection drives engagement and with it, attachment to the device. Any device that can in turn take that engagement and establish itself as a platform can reap many millions in profits.  I outlined this theory in my post last month.

And that was perhaps the most glaring shortcoming of the Flip, an affordable, iconic video recorder that was such a rage that Cisco Systems paid $590 million for Pure Digital, the company behind the Flip.

When I asked Kaplan about the lack-of-connectivity being a problem, he disagreed. “We are San Francisco-based consumers and as a result we are a few years ahead of the market,” he said. But that’s a minority share of the overall market. In five years, he agreed most devices would have a connection to the network, but for now there remains a huge demand for single-purpose devices, especially the Flip.

Kaplan, left Cisco two months ago and is currently working on a new start-up that is around the concept of “memories.” He declined to share any details and he also declined to comment on any questions about him buying back Flip from Cisco. It would be cool, if he did – I still love my Flip.

8 Responses to “Flip Founder: People Still Want Single Purpose Devices”

  1. This is spot on, plus a simple low cost device like the Flip is used for teaching kids, and in developing nations. Not so easy to hand out smartphones even if they do shoot good video. Cost per unit and the contract makes it impossible.

    As a long term flip blogger I set up a campaign and have had load of Flip fans commenting (including Cisco people) over at

  2. We are seeing the quality of smartphone video technology improving and when combined with live social video applications such as Flixwagon, users find that they don’t need another device to share their experiences…

  3. I love my Flip. Still the best and easiest to capture life on-the-go. Beneath each video clip, I could always get the high quality still frames exactly as it happened. Too may memories to list. I hope the Flip team goes out and builds another super cool Flip++

  4. I’ve used phones, Flip cams, and the Kodak HD pocket cams. The form factor is terrible; it simply doesn’t work. The cameras are too light and small to get a steady image.

    Additionally, Flip never got around to adding a mic input to their cameras, which is the single reason the last time I needed a pocket camcorder, I bought the Kodak playsport.

    All the flip was good at was guaranteeing a shaky image and sub-par sound. They can blame Cisco all they want, but everything a flip can do, so can my phone, and I’m already carrying that so why would I want to carry yet another device?

    Working in digital video for 5 years now, I’ve long been looking for an easy, portable solution to on the go video, and had high hopes for the Flip (and its competitors). It simply doesn’t work, though, and, like dial up, was merely a workable interim solution while tech progressed to the next level. These days, my iPad shoots better video and has a more stable form factor for on-the-go recording. It also features in-device editing and wi-fi/3G for distribution.

    And, unlike Kaplan’s insistence to the contrary, I’ll have it with me even if I’m not planning on shooting, because it’s still useful. Phone + laptop is now phone + tablet, and as I pare down my gear bag, there’s no room for single purpose devices.

    • Would you want to bring your phone/iPad out with you hiking, snowboarding, or anyplace outdoors to shoot video? Single purpose devices will always have a place for certain use-cases. Single-purpose vs. Multi-purpose devices always have trade-offs in terms of flexibility, price, usage, connectivity, form factor, ect.

  5. Unimagineable but true that Cisco makes a decision in 2009 to buy this company and decides to sell it in early 2011 – the decision makers that decided on this purchase need to be raked over burning coal and the idiots who decided to sell (I am sure they are the same buffoons) too need to be kicked out the door.
    The purge needs to start at the very top – John Chambers can go and campaign for Mitt Romney but I don’t want him near a company of which I am a shareholder (without any voice though, since who gives two shits to someone with 5 shares these days :) )

  6. I too love my Flip.

    I agree that “convergence devices” haven’t doomed the Flip, but a lack of WiFi (or other) is a bigger hurdle.

    I don’t think that taking video on my iPhone can replace that for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I can hand my Flip to my 5 year old and not worry about apps, emails, etc getting deleted.

    I suspect that either the Flip won’t be dead for long, or that someone like Sony/Samsung/etc will put out a product in this category, because there is a real market for such a single purpose device.