The Deaths of Flip, and the Consumer Spectrum

The Flip Camcorder is dead. Cisco, the parent company that bought Flip a few years ago is shutting it down and stopping all production. Not selling it off. Not trying to improve it. Killing it. Period.

As a Flip owner, I am quite pissed. It’s one thing when you happen to use a product that goes out of style or becomes unpopular. But this is not what happened to Flip. I am not a market analyst, but all numbers indicate it was still the number one selling medium quality camcorder out there. Popular with bloggers, YouTubers and any number of other middle of the road, casual, home movie loving, budget restrained videographers out there. So easy to use, my mother took home movies with mine without a single problem. (And she by her own admission is not a tech person.) In fact a lot of non-tech people used the Flip. Could that be why it was so popular???

In other words, it was perfect for people like me who are into simplicity. Or people like mom who do not understand a lot of technology. And it would seem that millions of people over the last four years since the Flip was introduced would agree.

And now it is killed off, and many people are wondering why. There may be many other business or money oriented reasons, but already the speculation among those in the know, and consumers alike is that the smartphone is to blame. They are only half right, if you ask me. For it is an attitude behind the dominance of the smartphone that is truly to blame.

Smartphones, (you know, those absurdly priced time wasters in need of bi-weekly updates to function properly) can now contain everything. From that stupid bird game, to your stock portfolio, in real time. They have consolidated about 90% of what human beings do on some kind of computer onto the best smartphones, and the other 10% that is not on a phone now is on its way to one soon.

“There’s on app for that!”

I get it.

The smartphone has been cited as the reason to get rid of mp3 players, GPS devices in your car, snapshot cameras, laptops, and yes, now, the Flip, and other camcorders.

Why would you buy a camera or an mp3 player, or a GPS, or a wristwatch, or an alarm clock and have something else to deal with, when you can just lay down the few extra hundred and buy an iPhone or a Droid that has all of that and more? It’s common sense.”

And that ladies and gentleman, is what is wrong with popular consumer culture today, and the corporate numbskulls that cater to it. The statement above is a perfect example of why technology and software industries are so irksome to me.

Consider what this attitude illuminates:

1.) That simplicity and laziness are the same thing.

People don’t want to have to actually reach into their back pocket, which is so far away, to pick up a ringing phone while they are shooting the footage of the dog sex they stumbled across in the park. Why waste 3 seconds? With a smart phone you can answer the phone while still taking the video. That is plain lazy.

Having a phone that rings when you call me, and makes your phone ring when I call you, with the ability to text if I prefer. Or a camera that takes video by pressing one button, and puts it on your computer by plugging it directly into one jack with no wires. That is simplicity.(Is there a freaking app for that?)

2) It assumes that everyone everywhere can afford, or even wants, the highest end product out there.

There was a time when the development and availability of products was dictated by the great middle. What the average person needed and wanted, and of course, could afford. But now, styles, models, packages, and bundles go on and off of the market based on the highest end consumer. The Flip was popular. Very popular, because it was fast, easy, and the vast majority of average people, not worried about buying SuperPhone could use it, and create basic quality videos to be enjoyed.

But the market for many products, (not just the smartphone), is now being dictated by those who want and need everything, here and now in one device, and can afford to lay down 500 dollars for the privilege. (Or who are willing to go into debt in order to buy the device on credit to keep up with the Joneses.) Those that insist that they would rather have no footage of their child’s first birthday, if they cannot film it with the same resolution in which Inception was filmed.

What’s worse, people like me are actually looked down upon as rubes because we don’t need our phone to cook our breakfast for us, and we want our cameras to just be our cameras. As though owners of smartphones simply cannot comprehend why a civilized human being would ever want anything else.

Obviously this is all about more than a phone or a camera to me. It is about how good ideas, that work just fine for the satisfied middle, or even the occasionally splurging poor, are shoved aside and dismantled, not when they have proven unmarketable or undesirable, but when they are merely proven less sexy. And not by the masses, but by the elite consumer. There is no spectrum of needs or desires or prices for the average buyer like me anymore.

No company should keep selling a product nobody wants. But when it comes to items like the Flip, or the average non-smart phone, an obvious, specific need of the average consumer is still being met. But because the big spenders and the lazy prefer the all in one 2,000 dollar mega-device, those of us who are more easily satisfied are left with two options. Go into debt to get the big stuff, or have nothing.

That isn’t a choice.

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2 Comments

  1. I think Pogue has a good synopsis on why it's not actually the smartphones that are killing the flip – http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/14/the-tragic-death-of-the-flip/ – and I actually think we're moving to an experience economy that DOES cater to everyone and lessens materialism. Whereas only the rich had access to certain services, now everyone does. I agree, the demise of the Flip totally sucks though.

  2. Interesting article. And indeed I agree with the gist of it. (Especially the numbers, for as I said, the Flip was still selling at a fantastic rate.)

    However, even if my theory proves to not be correct when it comes to Flip directly, I maintain that the overall theme of my post still holds true: that elite consumers tend to drive the market. But I would be interested in hearing more about your views on the emerging “experience economy”.

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