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Flip camera’s rapid rise and fall shows tech transience

April 14, 2011

The Flip video camera was one of the great success stories of a technology start-up company in the last decade, but now the device is defunct. This week, Cisco Systems has announced it is shutting down its Flip video camera division. When the pocket-size, easy-to-use cameras first appeared in 2007, two million sold in two years, dominating the camcorder market. In 2009 the founders sold their company to Cisco for a reported $590 million, according to media reports.

Analysts say the Flip was never a good fit for the computer-networking giant, but what the camera’s rapid rise and fall really illustrates is the ferocious metabolism of the consumer marketplace — where newer, faster technologies quickly supplant their predecessors. Specifically, the Flip’s demise shows the power of multifunction smartphones to destroy single-function gadgets, as The New York Times points out. Smartphones have also reduced markets for GPS devices and point-and-shoot cameras, and they continue to threaten everyday devices from wristwatches and alarm clocks to portable music players.

Flip’s founders were paid more than half a billion dollars for their invention, offering what the Times calls “an alternate lesson in the fine art of cashing out at the right time.”Greg Beaubien

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