John Naisbitt, author of the future-looking book Megatrends, is quoted as saying, "Leadership involves finding a parade and getting in front of it." Cisco has apparently decided that parade is consumer generated video and they're jumping in front of it by acquiring the producer of the most popular and innovative camcorder line, Flip Video. What do you suppose they have in mind?
To get a bead on Cisco's thinking, we first need to take a look at the video camera that has taken the camcorder market by storm. The original Flip Video camcorder was innovative in the same sense as Apple's iPod. There were music players before the iPod and camcorders long before the Flip. But Pure Digital created a product for capturing video that mirrors the clever design that Apple applied to the iPod. Both products are pocket-size, offer high quality performance, are trivially easy to use, easily connect to personal computers, and have internal power sources compatible with their expected usage.
The Flip product line now includes the Flip Video, Flip Ultra, Flip Mino and FlipMinoHD. Each has a form factor similar to the new slim touchscreen cell phones. Being small and lightweight, they slip easily into a pocket or bag for use on impulse. There's no messing with tapes or discs. These cameras have solid state memory ranging from 1 to 4 GB. There's also no motor driven telephoto lenses or command center worth of controls to make the camera big and chunky. In fact, the Mino series measures just 0.63 in. thick by 1.97 in wide by 3.94 in long.
The Flip Mino is simplicity in itself. The front of the camera has a designable case, such as the MegaTrunks Elephant Camera. All you see is a graphic and a fixed focused lens on front. The back sports a 1.5 in. TFT display and a set of touch sensitive capacitive buttons to record and play your videos. There's also a speaker and microphone to capture audio along with the video. Charge up the lithium Ion battery and you're good for 60 minutes of VGA recording. When you want to move your video to a Mac or PC for editing or uploading to YouTube, just flip out the USB connector and plug it in to your computer. The FlipMinoHD is a very similar device, but offers HD recording at a resolution of 1280 x720 pixels.
So how does Cisco fit into this picture, or perhaps video as it were? Cisco is building a portfolio of consumer products and pursuing a strategy known as "visual networking." They've got the resources to build-out this product line, perhaps adding wireless access for instant capture and upload. As computing and storage move more and more into the cloud, a personal video system might even be able to download as well as upload video content. Multimedia messaging may soon be as pervasive as text messaging is today.
If you think that sounds like an intrusion into the space now occupied by cell phones, you're right. One thing the wireless carriers are onto is that consumers can't get enough of personal video. The wireline broadband providers are feeling the bandwidth pinch even now and wireless will go the same way as multimedia phones become more pervasive and wireless data plans become more affordable.
In the meantime, Cisco must be clucking to itself as it eyes the booming market for devices such as the Flip Video camcorders and the networking life support resources such as routers and switches and make "visual networking" and all other computer networking possible.