What Cisco’s Flip-Flop Means To You

A once $200 portable video camera (Flip Mino HD) for $87. Not too shabby.

Online-video was heavily influenced by the popular Flip cameras because they were easy to use and convert to YouTube. I was somewhat disheartened by Cisco’s decision to buy Flip in March 2009, but hey… what’s $590 million on 2009 sales of more than $36 billion, right? Large tech companies have made stranger acquisitions (IBM/PWC).

I was more surprised that Cisco, a B2B network leader, flip-flopped by shutting down Flip this spring. Many applauded the move due to Flip’s pressure from real-time gratification of video-enabled phones and less expensive camera/video hybrids. But I’d argue Flip had a sustainable niche if it continued to innovate and partner, as well as broaden the range of its cameras to include less expensive versions or slightly higher end cameras (with such features as an optional zoom lense or mic inputs).

Flip’s competitive advantage was its ultra simplicity and soup-to-nuts functionality. How many other manufacturers embed IBM and Mac-friendly software that is user-friendly and fairly functional?

I’ll go out on a limb here (with no other information than gut) and speculate that some electronic manufacturer will make an offer on Flip to acquire its brand equity, patents and software. However I imagine Cisco’s pride will make it difficult to allow the transfer. While Cisco has little use for Flip’s remaining assets, cognitive dissonance usually prevents buying something for half a billion and selling it for tens of millions (what I imagine it’s worth).

But let’s get to you. What does this mean to YOU? Right now Flips are hyper affordable, and the best bang-for-the-buck in the space. If you can live with the paranoia of Flip’s inevitable decision to stop servicing them (an irrational concern given the lifecycle of these), they’re a steal. I picked up the Flip Mino HD for $100 at Staples tonight, and it’s only $87 on Amazon. Yes- a Flip Mino HD for $87. Less than a year and a half ago (Sept. 2010) this puppy was debuted at about $200. Jan wanted me to tell you the Flip Mino HD with 8GB ($99) is a better deal. I guess it depends on how much you shoot… I usually clear the camera before it gets close to an hour.

Sure, you might prefer picking up a Canon Powershot A300IS for about the same price, and I couldn’t blame you. Nice camera. Or you could check out this buying guide and find something with better features, and even better audio.

Is the Flip the best in the portable videocamera market? Not anymore. But the reality is that it’s small, pretty darned good, inexpensive, and easy to use. And while we’ll eventually be happy with our Smart Phone videocameras, they’re still not offering great video quality or audio… and they’re a pain in the ass to use to edit and upload. Getting video off the iPhone and onto a computer is a pain in the ass. Plus I often want to operate both at the same time, and I’m not pleased with the iPhone 4 video quality. Furthermore, the iPhone’s slow speed and unpredictability of the “upload to YouTube” feature is weak… it compresses it poorly unless you’re on a wifi or local network.

Flip Cam Alternative in JVC Picsio?

A month ago while on vacation in Florida I discovered I had forgotten my Canon HV30. I panicked.

I searched my laptop case (a giant man purse) for a Flip cam to hold me over. Note how easy it is to say “flip cam” instead of “small video camera.” No luck. On a trip to Best Buy I look at the Flips, but I continue to be frustrated by Flip’s price rigidity. Instead of bringing any legacy model close to the $100 point (I’m the guy that would own five of them for that price), they keep adding features and pushing past the $200. At $200 it’s a rival to larger but much better $300-$500 cameras. At $100 (or even $150) it’s an impulse buy and almost disposable.

Having been duped by Sylvania’s “Poor Man’s Flip Cam,” I would not go that route again.

So I tried out the JVC Picsio because of a significant sale ($150 if I recall, off a $199 ARP) and the super strong endorsement from the Best Buy dude. Not Billy this time. I was in Florida.

A worthy competitor to Flip in my book, but not according to Amazon raters...

Pros:

  • As small as Flip, but I believe the picture quality is as good or better. You can go 720 or 1080, and in good lighting it looks like a $500 camera.
  • I was afraid the JVC Picsio wouldn’t play nicely with my Mac, and I’d need software to convert. Surprisingly the files were .mov files and ready to roll into iMovie.
  • It takes photos and they’re pretty decent. I’ve learned not to get lured by megapixel promises… consider these pretty nice for a discount video camera ($150 would get you far more in a digital still camera).
  • You can find the price online even lower (see Amazon).
  • It’s very small and goes in the pocket easily. We took some cool swamp footage I can’t remember if I posted! Wait- I didn’t, did I?
  • I like to toggle between photo and video camera easily. It confuses the victim, however.

Cons:

  • It got slammed on Amazon’s reviews, so I wouldn’t have purchased it had I known that. But my experience wasn’t as severe as theirs.
  • No USB plug: you’d be surprised how that seemingly trivial miss can be so frustrating.
  • The playback sound (camera’s speaker) it almost inaudible. Like the Flip, no external mics welcome. Indoors without ambience, it did well. Cars not so much.
  • The power button is hard to use (quite annoying to dig fingernail multiple times to turn off/on), and the navigation is more complex. It began recording in my pocket a few times.
  • Apparently when the battery dies, it’s a paperweight.
  • Some people claim the images are not as steady, but again I was happy with what I got for $150 on an impulse buy.

Would I buy it again? I suppose if I didn’t already own a bunch of Flips (the Hello Kitty one is still my fav), I might have instead sprung for the Flip Mino to give it a try. As I recall, Greg Benson (mediocrefilms) shot this Yearbook parody video with it (amazing). For another $50 or $100 I’d like to see how it compares directly to the JVC Picsio and other portable cameras.

Here’s some footage I shot with it. What do you think?

Bottom Line:

  • I am surprised at Flip’s ability to dominate the market and hold on high prices ala Mac. It’s a great innovation, but I keep expecting for a Canon, JVC, Sony or other manufacturer to come out with a $100 Flip killer. Not yet.
  • As long as Flip keeps innovating (and allowing older models to hit that $100ish level) it may continue to dominate the ultra portable market, and I noticed the bold advertising campaign has continued even post Cisco acquisition. I do wish it would use actual amateur video in its ads instead of the awkwardly over produced simulated amateur clips. Again Flip resembles Mac in its advertising: slick, cool, musical.

P.S. If you Flip peeps wants to loan me the newest (UltraHD or this brushed-steal gen 2 Mino) for a head-to-head trial against the JVC Piscio I’ll gladly take the challenge and return the camera. I’d shoot simultaneous shots of the Flip and JVC (recording in the same conditions at same time), then post them on my daily vlogs on YouTube (unclenalts). Just hit me at kevinnalts at gmail (if I don’t reply immediately, don’t hesitate shooting again).