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Scott’s One Cool Thing: Owning the Flip UltraLive with WiFi

I’m Scott Peterson the Digital Camera and Camcorder Analyst here at gap intelligence and I love cameras.  I love learning about cameras, talking about cameras, playing with cameras, and most importantly, I love experimenting with all of their various features …and then telling you about ‘em.

When Cisco announced on April 12th that it would be shutting down its Consumer Products Division, many knew that this would spell the end for the FlipVideo family of pocket camcorders, but lesser known was that the company was actually scheduled to release a new product with unmatched segment capabilities the very next day.  The demise of the FlipVideo line created a quiet casualty in the form of the unreleased UltraLive, the industry’s first pocket camcorder to offer wireless transfer and content streaming.  It is this unique and highly anticipated model that I will focus on in this edition of…

Scott’s One Cool Thing.

The story of the Flip UltraLive began in 2009 when segment pioneer Pure Digital was purchased by Cisco.  Immediate speculation arose that Cisco (a company known for networking not camcorders) purchased the brand with the intent of integrating WiFi into the popular camcorder line.  The ignited rumors spread like wildfire through the industry, and every new product announced from the giant came with speculation that it would contain wireless transfer capabilities.  As the years dragged on with no solid proof of its development, the WiFi rumors transformed into hushed undertones, and soon became a type of fairytale bedtime story that I imagine product managers telling to their kids.

This all changed in January 2011 as FCC patent documentation was spotted for a new FlipVideo device, which matching eager expectations, came equipped with 802.11 WiFi.  Shortly after, e-commerce distributers and accessory partner websites began listing the yet to be released item’s part number prematurely as brick-and-mortar retailers Best Buy and Office Depot prepared for its arrival, even adding display signage for the new model.

All was set for the debut of the Flip UltraLive and the introduction of WiFi to the pocket camcorder segment.  That is, until Cisco discontinued the line on April 12th before it was even officially launched.  Just as the UltraLive seemed destined to never see the light of day, Office Depot advertised the model in its Mother’s Day ad and was actually selling the item.  So close to product launch, it’s likely that the division’s swift shut down happened too fast for retailers to react, who therefore went about showcasing the limited quantity of the camcorder.  Seeing the camcorder advertised was hard to believe, and after confirming its actual availability, my interest surrounding the model was taken to a new level.  Knowing the history, its $219 sale price proved irresistible as I quickly became part of the few to own a piece of unreleased and highly rumored camcorder history.

Using the UltraLive’s WiFi:

Much like the rest of the FlipVideo family, the beauty of the Flip UltraLive lays in its simplicity.  For many, the integration of WiFi into a pocket camcorder is an already-rendered obsolete feature given current smartphone technology.  Remembering that the original Flip was designed as a disposable “shoot and share” camcorder, there remains an aspect of portability and separation from your converged device that is somewhat comforting.  The UltraLive’s non-threatening interface gives novice individuals from grandparents to kids an easy way to connect and share their videos and enjoy being on the cutting edge of technology.  Which undoubtedly feels pretty cool.

Preloaded and ready to go, one simply has to connect the UltraLive’s Flip-out USB arm to their computer, which launches the cloud-based FlipShare and FlipLive software and configures to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as wireless networks.  In addition to home WiFi networks, the UltraLive can connect to public hotspots and can also link to mobile hotspots created by smartphones, letting one roam almost anywhere while streaming live video.

To steam live video press the WiFi button, select desired contacts to share with, and then press the big red button to start recording and streaming.  The friends and social network community that you chose quickly receive an email or text message letting them know you are streaming live, and can click a link to join the cloud-based streaming action.

In addition to live streaming the UltraLive can share more conventionally by sending a similar email to selected friends and family with a link to a previously recorded and stored video on FlipShare.

Limitations…But Still Cool:

Perhaps the biggest limitation of the model comes from the fact that Cisco shut down its FlipVideo brand.  With the line’s demise, the unreleased model’s live streaming capabilities are seemingly no longer supported by the cloud, though the model can still post and email non-live footage.  Additionally, Cisco recently imposed a 30 day expiration for its once limitless storage of posted videos on the FlipShare site.

While unique in its abilities as a camcorder, the capability to instantly post, share, and even stream live video is not a new concept for many of our tech-savvy friends, and possibly hard to justify for the corporation.  Though a market continues to exist for its technology, the UltraLive did not fit into Cisco’s plan and therefore was never released.  A company badgered for lack of focus and profitability sadly had to shed its weakest areas which interestingly meant the loss of the segment’s strongest player.

Perhaps the story of the Flip UltraLive itself is the cool thing, as it represents something so highly anticipated, and likely worried-upon by competitors, only to fade away before its official debut, serving as a sentimental relic of the past, while also showing a peek into the future.  While I admit that, much like a good Star Wars toy, some hesitancy was displayed in my opening of its packaging, I remembered that life is about living, and that its value as a collectable would be nothing if I never had the chance to experience what it does.  The reality is that WiFi will likely make its way into more pocket camcorders in the future, and the Flip UltraLive, although unreleased, represents the first and that’s why it is…

Scott’s One Cool Thing.

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