Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

Summary: Is the high-definition video available on Apple's new iPhone 4 a Flip-killer? I don't think so. Here's why.


Is the high-definition video available on Apple's new iPhone 4 a Flip-killer?

Flip, the mini camcorder now made by Cisco, was first introduced in 2007, and since then it's completely taken the digital video market by storm. With its easy-to-use operation -- push the red button, and away you go -- it made clunky, soda-can-sized handheld camcorders seem...unwieldy.

Fast forward to the present. The Flip now offers a full touchscreen display and more than four million models have been sold. But all the while, the smartphone has gotten smarter, more connected and more ubiquitous.

In fact, Apple's announcement has some tech reviewers wondering: will it kill the Flip?

Here's Janko Roettgers at NewTeeVee:

It [is] clear why everyone's favorite HD point-and-shoot camcorder could be in deep trouble: The Flip SlideHD was supposed to be the next big step for Flip, as it transitioned to a touchscreen-based interface, but it already looked outdated when it made its debut earlier this year, missing multitouch and other UI essentials that smartphone users are already accustomed to.


Smartphone users, on the other hand, are increasingly getting used to immediately sharing their footage via their devices’ cellular network connections.

And here's my CNET colleague David Carnoy on the same subject:

Initially, Flip should be OK if only because not everybody is going to go out there and buy an iPhone 4 tomorrow. But if Apple brings HD video capture to the next-generation iPod Touch this fall, consumers will most assuredly gravitate toward a thinner, lighter--and much more feature rich--device like the iPod Touch that won't cost much more than current Flip HD models, which retail for $150-$279.

My take? Flip will be just fine for the next few years.

Here's why:

  • The Flip is affordable. At $149, it's $50 cheaper than the new iPhone -- no contract necessary.
  • The Flip is disposable. A $200 camcorder is certainly not as disposable as paper, but ask yourself which you're more likely to give to your five-year-old: a Flip, or the iPhone with all your data on it?
  • The Flip is simple. Developers are making it easier than ever to capture video from a smartphone, but you still have distractions to deal with, such as updates and incoming phone calls.

I'm one of the first people who believes that one-trick-pony devices, such as e-readers, are not sustainable products. But there are particular hurdles to the mobile industry that will prohibit rapid mass adoption of "Flip-killing" smartphones -- the most significant being the two-year service contract.

So what will it take to kill the Flip? Easy: the high-definition video camera must become a standard feature of the smartphone, and the smartphone itself must become the "standard" (i.e. most popular) phone.

That's going to be difficult when most users can't upgrade their hardware at will, thanks to draconian service contracts.

When Apple introduced the video- and photo-enabled iPod touch and nano, pundits were swift to claim the impending death of the mini pocket camcorder. But even without a service contract, those devices -- which have sold millions -- haven't yet overwhelmed the segment.

The new iPhone is likely to end up the same way. To be sure, plenty of people will use the device to record impromptu clips of the kids, or of scenes abroad, or of karaoke in the bar, and instantly upload them to Facebook or Twitter or whatever else suits them.

But the Flip remains a trusty sidekick for those less impromptu moments -- the ones that require some degree of post-production.

For sure, Flip's current challenge is to innovate -- figure out how to get that Cisco-powered cloud connectivity so content can be uploaded on-the-go.

But until the smartphone becomes truly ubiquitous, I believe the Flip will survive.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, iPhone, Mobility

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

    Andrew, so what happens when FaceTime comes to the iPod Touch, iPad? At the current price points? Is the single natured device that is the flip going to be as flexible as people expect from multi-hundred dollar devices? I mean remember, there are people clamoring about making movies with a DSLR for God's sake.
    • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

      @mrgoodall a few things.

      First: Like iDevices, the Flip will continue to be more affordable as time passes.

      Second: There is no way the iPad will become a default camcorder. Its use as a videoconferencing device will be unparalleled, but you're definitely not going to hold it in the air to shoot video. The iPod's a different story; they will become popular in this way, but again, only for impromptu exercises.

      Third: Just because you can make a movie with a digital SLR camera doesn't mean you're likely to. I have yet to see this take off; it remains a novelty.

      I don't mean to be dismissive; Cisco definitely has some worrying to do when it comes to quick 'n' easy video. But I don't think the threat is as pressing as some make it out to be.
      • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

        @andrew.nusca <br>1: Agreed. Prices will continue to fall, but the Flip is still a one-trick pony that's almost the same size now as the iPhone, not like before when it was about half that size.<br><br>2: We're talking about the iPhone, not the iPad, and yes, all things considered, it could well replace the Flip simply due to the fact that you can fully edit your movie in the device after or even during shooting; something currently impossible in the Flip. However, as you said, you really wouldn't want to put an iPhone into your kid's hands. Then again, would you want to put any $200 device in your kid's hands?<br><br>3: Maybe you're right; but did you know that a major network not only did it, but subsequently aired a TV series episode that was filmed entirely on Canon digital SLRs? My friend, the threat is far more than you can imagine. The series was House and the episode was the season closer that aired two weeks ago.
    • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

      @mrgoodall step back from the cool-aid. Not every man, woman and child on earth is going to purchase an iPhone. Not everyone wants to be on the AT&T network. Not everyone can afford the $100+ per month it costs to have an iPhone.
      • on earth

        well jim, the earth is a little bit bigger than your beloved us of a. in lots of countries the monthly plan for an iphone is actually pretty low. and even in the us it is $60 a month not $100+. but why not spread some fud, right?
        banned from zdnet
  • Isn't the Flip waterproof, too

    Thought I heard that, I could be wrong.
    John Zern
  • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

    So sweet. Cant wait! I joined the Apple iPhone 4 Facebook Fan Page. Cool Stuff!

  • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

    Everyone has an iPod and won't go rushing out to buy a new one just to get video recording capability. But everyone buys a new cell phone every 1-2 yrs. Given the new metered data plans for iPhone users from AT&T I see more people than ever going for an iPhone as their cell phone replacement. Given the video capabilities, including HD, why the heck would anyone buy a Flip now? Yes there will be Flip sales but I see it drying up. People like all-in-one devices that work and are simple to use. If anyone can make simple to use all-in-one devices, it's Apple!
  • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

    The iPhone 4 will reduce the market for the Flip and similar devices, for the simple reason that all the folks who get the iPhone for other reasons will have little need to also purchase a Flip.
  • Those three reasons are ***not*** convincing

    1) $50 will not decide anything; also, as CNET pointed out, iPod Touch will push even more;
    2) iPhone's data is stored either on local computer or in a cloud, so irrelevant;
    3) simple, but not enough to lure out users from buying iPod Touch or iPhone 4.

    Sure Flip may survive, but it will not boom again (comparing to iPhone sales, it never "boomed" at all).
  • Flip was a big mistake!

    With a camcorder the size of a regular phone it's easy to compare the two. When you think of a bigger camera, you think of better lenses, better auto-focus, more zoom and more stable to make shoots.<br><br>Affordable: the HD version against the iPhone (and that's fair comparison) is not. Let me quote you: 279.99 u$s.<br>Dispposable: REALLY? This relegates the device to a "kids only" thing. They better listen to you at Cisco and make the Flip a toy.<br>Simple?? iPhone is using iMovie which is incredibly simple to use and elegant. So you can edit and send the movie via the iPhone without the need of another software installed or another computer. No, it is NOT simpler than the iPhone.<br><br>Let me tell you WHY it is a FLIP KILLER<br><br>
    <UL><LI>The Flip is the size of a PHONE. So you can compare the two and think: Why to have a phone AND a FLIP when by spending ONLY 50 u$s I can have a NEW SHINY PHONE TOO! And it's HD!!!</LI><LI>Almost the same specs on both related to video, plus the iPhone has a lot of things more. I hopefully find the FlipHD at 99 or lower to make it a fare comparison. </LI><LI> From the same device I can edit the video with an easy to use yet elegant tool everybody knows: the iMovie</LI><LI> From the same device I can SHARE my videos sending them with a variety of methods everybody already knows.</LI><LI> No need of another software to extract the media from the device.</LI></UL><br>If I have to by a camcorder, and -according to you- I am just 50$ away of a new phone I will by the iPhone and give my old phone to my kids instead.<br><br>The iPhone might be competing with Android phones, Simbian or RIM, but it is DEFINITELY A FLIP KILLER!
    • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

      Consider this simply:
      1) you want a HD camera thats relatively cheap BUY flip
      2) you want a HD camera and ipod BUY the next Ipod TOUCH (Only if mic is there too cause it better be!)
      3) You want a smart phone and HD camera BUY a Iphone 4

      also i am pretty sure the flip will have the market were people dont want to buy a $700 (with no term) phone or buy it for $200 and be stuck with a Minimum $80/month for a decent data and messenging plan. Because here in canada our mobile networks rip us off twice as much as they do in the states if you have a smart phone you NEED a data plan (TELUS/BELL) the exception is pay and talk on Bell and rogers but id rather pay monthly also YES it does cost $80/month for the iphone to get 1GB of data and 2200 (NOTE: NO UNLIMITED TEXTING WITH IPHONES) texts.

      In my opinion go for next ipod touch and a cell phone
      • That's a good point you have there...

        @kd342002 How much will cost the new iPod?
  • Sharing videos

    ATT stock holders are in love with you!

    >>>>?From the same device I can SHARE my videos sending them with a variety of methods everybody already knows.<<<
    • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

      @deepee912 I am an ATT stock holder myself... ;-)
  • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

    I flipped out my Flip ... was taking a video ... tried to call my friend on the Flip and share the video with him ... but couldn't figure out haw to do it? Can you tell me how to do it with my Flip?
  • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

    1. Technically true - although no one will be purchasing an iPhone only to capture video. This is like saying it's better to buy a $2.00 calculator than to buy a $199 iPhone. One could argue it's better to have video recording included for free in the phone they're already going to buy.

    2. I'm not sure if this is a price argument or a security argument. Either way, many give their hand-me-down phone to their children rather than disposing of it, and they can very simply wipe personal data from it.

    3. I agree, the iPhone could be more difficult to use. It could be argued though, that it is simpler to carry one device with you than it is to carry two.
  • for a little while anyways...

    I think you're right the Flip will be fine for a little while yet: but, this is only because the device is targeted to a very specific market segment; this means increased growth speed, and fast success, but overall a shorter product life cycle.

    The flip focuses on portable anywhere video recording, while the iDevices offer many more features(video, pictures, music, games, sharing, etc) that suit multiple market segments, and a much larger market overall. So, devices like the iPhone, and iPod Nano have to eventually overcome the Flip simply because they are targeted to a larger market that has much more potential.

    It is only a matter of time before the Flip goes into decline, and the iDevices will likely experience strong growth until well after the Flip gets killed.
  • DSLR and Hybrids

    Well, I've had my share of digital cameras and camcorders, and I think with the higher res cameras included in phones, their days are numbered. BUT, I am still planning on buying a DSLR or one of the new hybrids, as the quality from most of the phone cameras is still lacking. 720p video, not yet 1080p, and the aperature is so small that low light performance still sucks. And don't get me started with the little LED "flash" that they stick on phones; Useless!

    While I can use my phone camera a lot more than I used to, it still doesn't do it all. I'm sure it will, within a few years, but it's not quite there yet.
    • RE: Why Apple's new iPhone 4 is not a Flip mini camcorder killer

      @BigTipper For taking photos a DSLR is just perfect: don't forget the interchangeable lens, they are a must. But they are bulky and heavy. And for the still cameras that take hd videos remember that they need special gear to make them shoot steady and well.