As you may have heard, Cisco recently discontinued its once popular Flip camcorder. The Flip was a small video camera with internal memory that transferred files to a PC or a Mac via a little USB adapter that “flipped” out of the unit.
It was an ingenious and revolutionary product that, last year, was the top-selling video camera with 26 percent market share. Some analysts are saying Cisco killed the Flip — which it acquired about two years ago — so it could better focus on its core networking business, but, if someone were to do an autopsy on the little camcorder, I have a feeling that the cause of death would be blamed, at least in part, on smartphones.
Just about all of today’s smartphones, digital cameras — and now even tablets and the new iPod touch — have video cameras, and some of them are quite good. And with smartphone cameras, you’re able to upload or email those videos and still pictures without having to connect to a PC. The iPhone 4, for example, has an excellent video camera that makes it very easy to share your masterpiece on YouTube with a single tap to the screen.
As I contemplated the passing of the Flip, I realized that pocket camcorders are not the only product category that’s at risk because of smartphones. Though small digital cameras aren’t yet on the endangered species list, it’s only a matter of time before cellphone cameras are just as good for the types of photos people typically take with pocket cameras. Already, I see many people using their iPhones and Androids instead of stand-alone cameras to snap pictures of their friends.
One reason, of course, is that you always have your phone with you while most people only think to take their camera along for special occasions. But it’s also very cool to be able to take a picture and immediately post it on Facebook or email it to friends.
The portable GPS is also in danger. I have a little Magellan navigation unit in my car that I used to also carry with me on trips to use in rental cars. But I never use it anymore because Google (GOOG) Maps — which is built into my Android phone — is actually better and always with me. Not only has Google done an excellent job with its navigation software but, because it’s connected to the Internet via the cellular system, it always has up-to-date maps, points of interest and traffic information. I recently used it to locate a restaurant that had only been in business a few weeks.
Sure, you can purchase annual updates for stand-alone navigation systems, but they’ll never be as-up-to-date as Google.
The smartphone is even threatening built-in car audio and navigation systems. I recently put a navigation and entertainment system in my car, but to be honest, most of what it does can be done with a smartphone. The ergonomics of smartphones aren’t yet quite right for cars, but the features are all there. You can use most to listen to MP3s and Internet radio and as a navigation system. And the ability to play Internet radio is a big threat to XM/Sirius satellite radio and even AM and FM now that you can listen to thousands of audio sources — including live news radio — directly from a smartphone using applications like Pandora, Radio.com, Aha, AOL radio and apps from media companies.
And it’s not just listening to radio. It’s creating it too. I know a reporter from a Washington, D.C., station who records and edits all of his remote reports via his iPhone. He no longer carries around an audio recorder or a laptop to edit his reports.
Smartphones and tablets are putting pressure on the e-reader market, which may be one of the reasons that Amazon just announced a cheaper ($114) version of the Kindle subsidized by advertising that appears when you’re not reading books. Portable DVD players are also going away thanks mostly to tablets, which are great for watching video.
The list of upsets goes on. There was a time when just about everyone wore a wristwatch, but now people are using their phones to tell the time. And, although you need accessories to make it work, smartphones can also be used as blood pressure monitors or to keep track of blood glucose.
There is even a smartphone electrocardiogram that fits into a protective case, making this important diagnostic tool available as an inexpensive option for global use. But, while smartphones can be used to diagnose heart problems, I haven’t yet come across an app for performing open heart surgery. For that we might have to wait for the iPhone 6.