RIP Flip: Another Great Device Hits the Dust

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It's happened again. I'm losing a device that I depend on, because it is considered too old-fashioned to live.

Back in the Dark Ages, when dinosaurs roamed and cellphones only made phone calls, many of us used PDAs -- personal data assistants -- to keep electronic track of our schedules, contacts and other data. These handy devices had no wireless connections (except toward the end of their popular life), but you could connect them to your computer and download the latest news or your favorite music to read and/or listen to.

While the popular brands included a variety of Palm devices along with the HP iPAQ, I favored those from Psion, a company from England which produced PDAs with small pull-out keyboards that you could type on surprisingly comfortably. One of my friends wrote long treatises on his Psion Series 5 and I carried my own Psion Revo everywhere.

Then, in 2001, Psion decided that its consumer division wasn't keeping up its end of the company's financial burden, and shut it down.

The effect on Psion PDA users was electric. Like many fans of a particular tech product, Psion owners had launched users groups and Web sites, and devised thousands of tweaks -- both software and hardware -- to help them use their favorite device. They hung on for as long as they could, but lack of development doomed the Psion, and other PDAs as well.

Was Psion wrong to drop a technology that would, over the next few years, become outmoded? No question. Did they do it prematurely? Perhaps. I can't say what might have happened had they held on to their at-the-time innovative devices and continued to upgrade them for the new smartphone era. But I have to say that, at the time, I was not happy -- to the point that, until the first Android phone shipped in 2009, I resisted buying a substitute.

Fast forward to 2011. Cisco, which in 2009 purchased Pure Digital Technology Inc., the manufacturer of the Flip video camera, has announced that it will no longer be manufacturing the pocket-sized camcorders. The reasoning, no doubt, is that more and more people are using their smartphones to take lower-quality video; those who want higher quality are purchasing higher quality camcorders. In other words, the company feels that the market for low-cost small video cameras that produce quick-and-easy videos is dead.

Again, the questions: Is Cisco wrong to drop a technology that will probably, over the next few years, become outmoded? Perhaps. Did they do it prematurely? I think so.

There are other low-cost video cameras out there, but the Flip has always led the way in ease of use and quality of output. I've had a Flip camera for a couple of years, and when I first got it, I was surprised and pleased by the quality of video I could produced using this extremely limited little device. The videos were, almost without exception, clean and focused -- and I was especially impressed by how well it behaved in low-light situations.

Perhaps I'm growing old-fashioned, but while my smartphone is great for snapping a quick photo if I don't have anything else available, for more planned activities -- family events, block parties, political demonstrations -- the Flip has been an enormously helpful device.

And it's great when speed is an issue and I don't want to fumble with my phone. If an interesting-sounding bird is singing in my front yard, or there's a TV episode being shot two blocks away, I grab my Flip, because I'm sure that there won't be any glitches, sudden phone calls, or other hassles -- I'll just get clean, useable video.

RIP, Flip. Like my Psion Revo, you were nice while you lasted.

This story, "RIP Flip: Another Great Device Hits the Dust" was originally published by Computerworld.

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