Why The Flip Died

Christopher Breen at Macworld:

Despite appearances, I come to praise Flip rather than simply bury it. It was a respectable idea, nicely implemented. Yet it, like other single-purpose devices before it, fell victim to the dream-now-made-flesh—the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and other convergence devices of their tantalizing ilk.

Convergence devices like the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, who has them? Let’s focus on the iPhone first. The global mobile phone market in 2010 was 1.6 billion units according to Gartner. Smartphones made up 297 million units, or a bit less than 19%. Sure, smartphones are growing rapidly, but just look at the 2010 snapshot and you’ll see that more than 81% or 1.3 billion folks carried regular phones. That 1.3 billion is the potential market for single-purpose devices like the Flip.

Of course we need to consider folks with digital cameras that can capture video. Most DSLRs can’t capture videos but I’ll lump all digital cameras and assume they can take videos. How many digital cameras were sold in 2010? According to the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) via Shutterbug that number is 121.5 million. That brings the total available market for single-purpose devices like the Flip down from 1.3 billion to 1.18 billion.

Let’s bring that total down by 180 million to a clean one billion since there are other convergence devices like the iPod touch and iPad. One billion potential customers for single-purpose devices like the Flip. That’s pretty big. Did the global trend toward convergence devices like the smartphone and digital cameras kill the single-purpose video-capturing Flip? Highly unlikely.

Update: Here’s David Pogue:

First, app phones like the iPhone represent only a few percent of cellphone sales. You know who buys app phones? Affluent, East Coast/West Coast, educated, New York Times-reading, Gizmodo-writing Americans.

But most of the world doesn’t buy iPhones. Of the 1 billion cellphones sold annually, a few million are iPhones. The masses still have regular cellphones that don’t capture video, let alone hi-def video. They’re the people who buy Flip camcorders. It’s wayyyyyy too soon for app phones to have killed off the camcorder.