Flip Cam: A Victim Of Smartphones?

Cisco Systems recently announced that it is shutting down the division that makes the Flip video recorder. Technology writers are saying the smartphone killed the Flip Cam, but Jonathan Kaplan, the founder of the start-up that created Flip, tells Michele Norris that is not the real story.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Is the camcorder dead? That's the question on the minds of many in the tech world after Cisco pulled the plug on the popular Flip video camera last week. The Flip is about the size of a pack of cigarettes and it was hope that its portability and sleek style would appeal to a generation that grew up with their parents hovering over birthdays, homeruns and other milestones with big, bulky video cameras. But then along came all those smartphones with video features built in.

Jonathan Kaplan is the father of the Flip. He founded the start-up that created it and he stayed on even after selling the company to Cisco. And Jonathan Kaplan joins me now from San Francisco. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JONATHAN KAPLAN (Founder, Pure Digital): Thanks so much. It's great to be here.

NORRIS: So, answer that core question for us. Is the camcorder dead and did the smartphone do it in?

Mr. KAPLAN: Yeah. I hear that question a lot. And I have to tell you, the video camcorder is around to help people capture and share their memories. It's changed the world and Flip was just a part of that. And I think you'll see single-purpose camcorders. And as time goes on, I think you'll see those video camcorders being connected to the Internet and delivering value that is very different than just what a cell phone can do with a video camera function as only one of its many functions.

NORRIS: Well, let me ask you about the single-purpose camcorder called the Flip. I'm curious about how the Flip went from being a product that sold six million units with a roster of very high-profile fans like Ellen DeGeneres and Jessica Alba, to finding itself in a position that it's something that we're going to be talking about in the past tense.

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, I tell you, it's a little bit disappointing. And I think the real thing is that sometimes what's best for shareholders of a big company like Cisco are not always what's best for consumers. And I thought Cisco would help us in delivering wireless and connected versions of the Flip. And I also thought that there was a great palate for my team to work on in building and generating great consumer electronics devices.

And consumer electronics was definitely an area that they thought they could be successful in and they brought me and my team to the group to try to make that a reality. And as I said, it's disappointing that because Cisco has run into its own sets of challenges, and it needs to focus more on its core, that the consumer group has been restructured and Flip is going to go away.

Well, I have to tell you, I didn't see it happening. So hopefully the world's a better place because of Flip. And I don't like looking through the rearview mirror. I much prefer looking forward.

NORRIS: And when you look forward, is it possible that the Flip will come back?

Mr. KAPLAN: That's up to Cisco. I think there'll be other great consumer electronics devices, especially those that capture video. And I think that there's opportunities for simplicity and affordability. And I think what made Flip so wonderfully powerful is that everyone felt that they could do it. Everyone felt empowered, whether you were a five-year-old kid or whether you're an 85-year-old grandmother, you could pick up a Flip and with the touch of a button, you can make something special.

And I think that that dream, that vision, that idea, I think will exist in the future. Right now, I've made a decision to focus on my next thing. So I don't think it'll be me that's going to be keeping the Flip alive. But, again, I'm going to be kind of looking out the front windshield rather than the rearview mirror.

NORRIS: What are you working on right now?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, I'm working on a start-up with a very small group of people out here in San Francisco. And, again, it's also focused on the memory space. We really feel like making memories and trying to change the world and make the world a better place is important. It's not in the consumer electronics area, but I would love to come back sometime and tell you about it. We will probably launch in about September timeframe.

NORRIS: I'm intrigued. No more details?

Mr. KAPLAN: That's all I can give you right now.

NORRIS: Jonathan Kaplan is the founder of Pure Digital, the start-up responsible for bringing the world the Flip camera. It's been good talking to you and I'm curious to see what you're going to do next.

Mr. KAPLAN: Thanks so much. I really appreciate the time.

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