Flip, Kin, Wave

by Dave Michels

Did the SmartPhone kill the Flip? Horseshit. Cisco killed the Flip.
Evidently murdered just before its newest version was to ship. Pogue reported that the company was set to release a new feature to enable live streaming – but the Flip division was shut down one day before its release date. He wrote:

That new Flip that the product manager showed me was astonishing. It was called FlipLive, and it added one powerful new feature to the standard Flip: live broadcasting to the Internet.
That is, when you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot, the entire world can see what you’re filming. You can post a link to Twitter or Facebook, or send an e-mail link to friends. Anyone who clicks the link can see what you’re seeing, in real time — thousands of people at once.

That sounds a lot like Qik which worked with multiple smartphones. Skype recently acquired Qik for about $150 million. I can’t say I ever understood why Cisco got in the Flip business with its acquisition of Pure Digital for $600 million in 2009, but I can say the Flip was brilliant. The Flip was a game changer, and in 2009 there was nothing like it, as Breen wrote in MacWorld:

In hindsight, it’s easy to scoff at this notion, but consider that Apple took the Flip seriously enough that when Steve Jobs announced the video-camera-equipped fifth-generation iPod nano, he compared it directly to a Flip camcorder, saying “This market’s really exploding, and we want to get in on this.”

I have two thoughts on the matter:

Watch your Back!
Corporate America’s perspective on slow cooking profits in a word is Intolerant. Forget trying to fix things the hard way – the only thing better than layoffs is shutting down entire projects. This job would be so much better if it weren’t for all these stinking products and employees.
Flip, Kin, Wave: what do they all have in common? They all represent very expensive endeavors that for whatever reason wasn’t deemed “profitable” in the Ferengi sense. As a result, they were jettisoned without prejudice, warning. It boggles the mind that the companies mentioned didn’t even attempt to spin-off or sell-off. The common response is selling a business takes too long – that might be true for a fair price, but not for considerably more than they got. Hell, put the division on eBay. 
Sometimes, such draconian measures are justified – such as GM’s decision to kill Oldsmobile. My point is that such extreme decisions are not only more frequent, but more accepted – daresay expected. When we heard the ominous news of the Chambers memo that the networking giant was “making a number of targeted moves.” – didn’t we assume drastic cuts?

“Our market is in transition, and our company is in transition. And the time is right to define this transition for ourselves and our industry. I understand this. It’s time for focus.”

For good reason too:  “Five years ago Cisco’s stock was $20 per share. Today it’s 17 and change. In the same time, archrival Juniper has gone from $17 to $40 and F5 has gone from $30 to $100.” (from NoJitter).
I know a thing or two about failures and these beauties are impressive. Failure is common, it is all around us and we all fail at various things. But there are degrees of failure. Failing to find a pair of comfortable shoes is on a different level than say the Titanic.
The Titanic was a spectacular failure. Not just because of its size, but because of the collaboration involved. It wasn’t an iceberg that sunk the Titanic, it was an undersized rudder on a ship speeding thru iceberg infested waters. It was not enough lifeboats on a ship with interconnected anti-sinking air chambers. A spectacular failure takes a village.
All businesses and products endure a life-cycle. As the times change (constantly) there are winners and losers. You can see it at the shopping center – video rental stores, drive-up Fotomats, record stores, bookstores, etc. It is understandable that these businesses are/were under incredible pressure – the times they are a changing.
But think about these failures. They were not victims of the times, they were victims of themselves. How do you screw up a video camera business at a time when everything we see and do is being recorded and uploaded? Cisco has a strong brand, strong distribution, manufacturing know how, capital, and economies of scale in its favor. Last Fall, it was reported that 35 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. The Flip itself was considered a winner – no cables, a simple big red button, no recurring fees, and long battery life. It had success written all over it.
The Kin? Sure you can say smartphones are cooler, but dumb phones out sell them. Plus MS also had a reasonable brand and economies of scale (components and carrier contracts with Windows Phone 7). Do you even know anyone without an mobile phone? Even kids have them now. You can’t throw a dead cat without hitting two mobile phone stores (which have lots of non smart phones). The Kin was unique, had potential. Of course, this wasn’t the first Microsoft mobile failure – WinMo, Danger, and Kin. Spectacular!
For more info on why the smartphone was a non factor for both Kin and Flip, see Displayblog.
Then comes Wave… this blog deals a lot with various forms of communications. The story is consistent – voice is not as important as it once was, but still critical. Not as important simply because of the alternatives now available – we communicate in so many ways. It’s an area that is confusing – which tools to use, how to align (unify) them, how each is maturing. Google killing Wave off as early as it did was a real shocker. Particularly since it kept Gmail in “beta” for so many years – and hasn’t killed Buzz yet.
Wave had it all. If anything it was ahead of its time. I am not sure it was entirely well conceived, but few first generation programs are (took Netflix years to stop charging per rental). But Wave blended some of the most important aspects of communications today; email, IM, presence, collaboration, social networks, documents, video, and more. Bottom line, people are spending more time in front of their screen then ever before and everyone is trying to figure out how best to communicate while doing so. I would happily give Wave a +1.