With many electronics makers looking to replicate the success of the Flip video camera, the company behind it, Cisco, is looking for a new way to stand out.
Since the Flip's debut in 2007, a parade of similar sub-$200 camcorders, from far more established names have followed, including those from Sony, Samsung, Kodak, Creative, Toshiba, and others. Now the Flip folks are mixing it up a bit.
Instead of readying an updated camera for the holidays, the newest product isn't a camera at all, but a tiny, square-ish box that plugs into a TV. Using a small white USB dongle, it can stream your homemade Flip videos stored on your computer to your TV's larger screen, with the ability to sort through videos using an included remote control. The system is called Flipshare TV, and it's available starting Wednesday.
Some 3 million of the pocket-sized flash-based cameras have sold since the Flip's launch in 2007. After establishing the brand, the device's makers Pure Digital sold the company to networking giant Cisco for $590 million.
Jonathan Kaplan, Flip founder and current vice president of Cisco's consumer products group, said earlier this year to expect "networked" Flip cameras, and Flipshare TV is one example of that.
The idea behind Flipshare TV is that you'll be more likely to watch your videos after making them if you can show them to a larger group on a larger screen. Taking home video is great, as Flip's head of marketing Simon Fleming-Wood says, but "the key is the ability is to do fun things with it."
Those "fun" things are enabled by the Flipshare software, now in version 5.0., and the Flip Channels feature, launched in June. With the latest update, anyone can create a Flip Channel, through which they can upload their own videos and share them with specific people or groups. Those on the receiving end of a shared video have options. If they are also in possession of a Flipshare TV box, videos shared with them will automatically appear whenever it's turned on. Pure Digital is hoping this will be popular with families with relatives living far apart.
If they'd still rather see it on the computer, they can watch shared video via YouTube, MySpace, or Facebook. Flipshare 5.0 also integrates with a free Flip mobile application. Once installed on an iPhone, Android phone, or BlackBerry, new videos will appear automatically in the app when they are shared with the user.
The problem with a single-purpose device like Flipshare TV, however, is that we now live in an age of Blu-ray players that can stream Netflix movies, video game consoles that let you Twitter, and TVs that let you check Facebook. In other words, with limited space in our media cabinets, it will make more sense to opt for multipurpose devices, not gadgets that do one thing only.
It's the same path Roku was on, as a box that initially did little more than stream Netflix movies. But that company is also realizing it has to do more to compete with the Xbox, and is in the process of creating an almost platform-like experience with different kinds of content (podcasts, live sports, video rentals, music streaming).
Cisco's Flip division, of course, doesn't think the $150 Flipshare TV necessarily belongs in the same category.
"We know people plug their cameras into the TV, and this connects by HDMI or composite (cable). It's no harder to plug into your TV than a camera," said Fleming-Wood.
Plus he says not everyone will want to make permanent space for it in the media cabinet.
"Some will have it plugged in only sometimes, others will have it plugged in all the time."
And there will be more in the future for Flipshare. The company has more people working on the software than on the hardware, according to Fleming-Wood. Under consideration is creating public Flip Channels. For now, all channels are invite-only. But there is potential for allowing the ability to browse videos that have been marked public, though it would lead inevitably to comparisons to YouTube, or Twitter, if users can elect to follow certain Flip user's channels. Pure Digital didn't want to "burden" itself by trying too much all at once in this release, said Fleming-Wood. "But I think that it's an obvious thing to consider doing."