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Posted at 11:04 AM ET, 04/12/2011

Cisco to fold Flip video-camera business

Roll the closing credits for Cisco’s Flip line of handheld video cameras: The networking firm will stop making those gadgets.

A press release uses the r-word--“restructures”--that’s always fatal to somebody’s career. It states that the San Jose, Calif., company will “Close down its Flip business and support current FlipShare customers and partners with a transition plan” but doesn’t give a timetable or further information. It also says Cisco will restructure its Linksys home-networking line but is equally vague about the details.

The press release doesn’t say why Cisco would do such a thing, but that should be obvious: death by smartphone.

The original Flip, released by Pure Digital in 2006 as well as such successors as the Flip Mino I tested in 2008 and the Flip UltraHD I reviewed a year later all provided remarkably simple editing and sharing through their built-in applications once they were connected to a Windows computer.

(My wife and I have a Flip at home, bought by her sister before the birth of our daughter last year, but we edit and upload with iMovie on our Mac instead of using its own software.)

But over the past few years, smartphones have not only acquired the ability to shoot presentable video but also upload it on the spot--no computer required.

Some, like an iPhone 4 running Apple’s iMovie, even let you edit footage in the field. Even when I first reviewed that device last June, I thought Apple’s combination of hardware and software constituted “a serious threat to Cisco’s Flip cameras.”

Cisco tried to compete with a higher-end model that offered a much larger screen but couldn’t compete on price (assuming a buyer was already set to get a smartphone). It never got around to shipping a version that could share video over WiFi, despite many reports that it would.

The only real surprise is that Cisco made this move now and didn’t try to unload the division first--bought for $590 million barely two years ago. New York Times tech columnist David Pogue, for example, did not take the news well, Twittering: “WHAT THE HEY!?!?? Cisco is killing off the Flip camcorder! I know our phones take video, but--come on. Kill it? Not sell it?!”

I can only conclude that Cisco saw no hope for this. The Flip is survived by such sharing-friendly, pocketable video cameras as Kodak’s lineup and Sony’s Bloggie series, but I wouldn’t want to bet too much on their longevity.

And how long until a vendor of digital cameras has the same realization and gives up on the entry-level point-and-shoot category, abandoning that work to smartphones just as Cisco has?

By  |  11:04 AM ET, 04/12/2011

Categories:  Video, Gadgets

 
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