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Cisco flops on Flip while Kindle drops in price

Cisco Systems Inc. is exiting parts its consumer businesses with plans shut its Flip video camerbusiness.

Cisco Systems Inc. is exiting parts of its consumer businesses, with plans to shut its Flip video camera business.

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Updated: April 14, 2011 12:46PM



Well, fellow sensation-seekers, the past 24 hours have brought with it two big announcements about two of my favorite gadgets.

The first news was about the Flip Video camera. You know the one: the tiny, hugely-endearing pocket video camera that launched a thousand YouTube videos of a thousand incompetent skateboarders crushing two thousand priceless bits of anatomy against steel railings. Well, sadly. Cisco Systems, which bought Flip just two years ago – possibly because Mr. Cisco had a high-school reunion coming up and he wanted to have an interesting answer if anybody asked what his company did – has decided to kill the product.

What was Flip’s failure point?

It isn’t tough to see that the Flip was dominating a market that might completely cease to exist in a few years’ time. $149 for a tiny HD video camera is still a fine deal. But it’s tough to compete with “free,” and that’s the price of the HD video features that are built in to many phones and still cameras.

I’m not at all convinced that the market for these Flip-style video cameras is collapsing. Phones shoot crummy video; sure it’s HD, but the quality is marginal when the lighting is poor or the subject is moving fast. The best pocket still cameras can record near-cinema quality, no trouble there. But they’re full of gotchas. Do you happen to own one of the cameras that can only shoot seven minutes at a time? One whose autofocus motor dumps grinding noises on the audio? Were you lucky enough to get one of the very few that can actually shoot good audio and which has microphones that are (holy innovation!) actually pointed towards the subject you’re shooting?

Phones have certainly robbed the Flip of the YouTube market. But keep in mind that the generations that want to shoot video of their children and their grandchildren are generations that grew up with a certain set of expectations for a video camera. They expect it to be a dedicated device that’s well-suited towards a specific purpose, and not an afterthought.

The correct answer to the question “How come we can’t make out our precious child’s first words on this video?” isn’t “Well, dearest, you have to accept that a multifunction device like this one has certain limitations.” It’s “Because some idiot told me that my phone’s Camera app was just as good as having a real video camera and I believed them.”

Subtext to this answer: “I thought it over and decided that ongoing document of our life together isn’t worth $149.”

Subtext to the subtext: “Yes, I’m sleeping with my partner at the firm. I mean, come on ... you saw him/her at the Christmas party, didn’t you? God knows I sure did.”

Flip was never a good fit for Cisco. They make networking devices. They don’t even make the kinds of networking devices that are targeted towards consumers. It’s as though your local salon added side-bagging lawn mowers to their line of hair and skin products. The decision seemed random from the beginning and the product was destined to be dropped the moment it failed to earn someone enough to buy a boat or three.

Sony, and many other seasoned consumer electronics manufacturers, continue to make Flip-style cameras. It’s part of a whole portfolio of products that make sense as a whole and more importantly, there’s no expectation that this one product will become so successful that the company’s CEO will be caricatured on “South Park” or “The Simpsons.” There’s life in this kind of video camera ... at least until it’s possible to buy a phone or a still camera and expect it to shoot HD video without any apologies.

The second news came from Amazon. You can now buy a WiFi-only Kindle 3 for just $114, which is $25 off its usual $139 price!

(Hooray!)

...But the discount is subsidized by ads delivered via the Internet.

(Boo!)

The ads only appear on the Kindle’s “sleep” screen and on its menu pages. Once you open a book and start reading, you won’t see any ads at all.

(Hooray!)

And before you pull off your tweedy jacket, adjust your sleeve garters, thread a fresh sheet of onionskin into your Underwood and start composing a smug essay for The Sewanee Review about how this development only serves to underscore the cold, categorical unsuitability of an e-book as an alternative to a traditional hardcover ... Amazon is still selling the original $139 WiFi-only Kindle 3. The company promises me that it’s completely untainted by the blood of any helpless infant Muses slaughtered upon the altar of targeted online advertising.

That $25 may not seem like windfall savings but it demonstrates why Amazon is the only company that’s playing the consumer-media game on anything like Apple’s level. In this market, one must be either oh-so-innovative or oh-so-affordable. In 2007, the $399 Kindle was Innovative. In the post-iPad world of 2011, I recommend “Affordable.” And you may quote me.

Amazon continues to aggressively drive the price of the Kindle down, down, down. I’m certain that Amazon is pursuing a $99 Kindle with the same focus and intensity with which a serious runner pursues a four-minute mile. I’d even lay down a small wager that they’re going to hit that mark in time for the holiday season.

As much as I love my iPad – I’m writing this column on one right now, in fact – it’s foolish to ignore the fact that there’s a huge percentage of the public who can admire a $499 cutting-edge color multitouch tablet with a profound library of apps but who can’t own one. $99 is a magical price point. That’s only $15 less than the new ad-supported Kindle but would inspire a whole new wave of consumers to click the “Buy It Now” button instead of “Add To Wishlist.”

So I can’t find any bad news, or any reason for snark, in Amazon’s $114 Addle. It represents nearly a 20 percent price drop and it makes great technology accessible to more people. As for the ads themselves? I believe that advertising is a noble profession undertaken by some of the finest men and women that our species has to offer, and urge you to vote for Freedom by clicking each of the ads you see here on the Sun-Times’ website. Repeatedly.



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