Lights, camcorder, action: The Flip - a gizmo for technophobes

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The Independent Tech

It is the video camera for which you need no instruction manual: the ultimate point-and-shoot, YouTube-friendly, plug-in-and-upload mini-masterpiece that has taken America by storm – and it is on its way to Britain.

No more clunky cameras, dodgy cassettes or complicated, tangled wires. For those who love to record their lives, the task just got a whole lot easier.

The Flip takes just a second or two to start up, fits in your pocket and will operate anywhere on a couple of AA batteries. It has just three buttons, holds 30 minutes or an hour of footage, depending on the model, and the bigger of the two will retail for £99.99. However, it costs $149 in America, and some UK residents have already engaged in a bit of transatlantic arbitrage, with the help of the legion of British shoppers flying over to take advantage of the weak dollar.

From a standing start a year ago, the product now accounts for 13 per cent of all camcorders sold in the US. Sales are closing in on one million and accelerating.

The Flip goes on sale in the UK from Monday, in time for the summer holiday and wedding season. The makers are so optimistic that it will appeal to everyone from age five to 95 that they are shipping it to some unusual retailers. As well as traditional electronics stores, where the Flip will sit alongside chunky, hi-tech camcorders, it will also be on sale at branches of Toys R Us, which is hoping for brisk demand.

PC World is also stocking the Flip, and it will be available online from Amazon.co.uk and Play.com. Other high street chains are holding off to see if the initial launch is a success.

The American market, meanwhile, got sight of a second-generation product yesterday that could be arriving on these shores in a few months, too. Within hours of its launch, the ultra-slim Flip Video Mino was at No 4 on the list of best-selling electronic gadgets at Amazon.com.

"A guy in our office is going to take one on a stag do in a few weeks, edit the footage himself and then beam it out at the wedding," said Nikki Thompson, the publicist heading the Flip's British charge. "It is so simple to do. Of course, we're a bit worried that's not a good idea as far as the bride-to-be is concerned."

Flip users can plug the device straight in to the USB port of a PC or a Mac, edit their footage and upload it to video-sharing sites such as YouTube, MySpace or Facebook. Plug it into the television and you never have to watch You've Been Framed again.

The influence of the Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs, who infused the iPod with a desirability that no other music player has been able to match, is all over the Flip. Want it in orange, in pink? Sure. In fact, buy both. Accessorise. What colour pouch would you like to put it in? Want an underwater case for it, too? It is all a far cry from the geeky roster of specifications and features that have to be investigated before buying a traditional, more expensive camcorder, and it has rival electronics manufacturers running scared. Most of the big names, from Sony to Sanyo, have unveiled super-cheap camcorders in recent months in an attempt to catch up.

The New York Times technology reviewer, David Pogue, admits it took him time to notice the Flip phenomenon growing but he is a convert. "The lesson is one that the electronics industry seems to miss over and over again: that creeping feature-itis often impairs your product instead of improving it," he said. "In the Flip's case, the size, shape, ruggedness, low price and one-button simplicity take it places where no real camcorder would go. Purses, coat pockets, beach bags. Skiing, playgrounds, house walk-throughs, museums, casual interviews, YouTube stunts, classrooms, aeroplanes – just about everywhere but live performances and sports. The zoom just isn't good enough."

Its inventor, Jonathan Kaplan, set up his company Pure Digital Technologies in California's Silicon Valley in 2001 in partnership with a software developer, Ariel Braunstein. After a decade working on disposable camcorders, they struck gold with the Flip, which attracted private equity investment and a $40m cash infusion last May for marketing and production. It was the right product at the right time, as an entire generation brought up with camera phones and video-sharing websites came of age.

Mr Kaplan and his team now aim to push the Flip into the hands of people who have not previously been YouTube-savvy. "For the millions who share their lives online every day, it is more than a camcorder – it is a fun tool for communicating and creatively expressing themselves," Mr Kaplan said.

"US consumers have embraced the Flip's simplicity and convenience because it makes video incredibly fun for anyone. We anticipate a similar response in the United Kingdom."

Technological revolutions

iPod

Having sold two million units since its launch in 2001, it is no exaggeration to say the iPod is a once-in-a-generation product that revolutionised music accessibility and sparked a wave of imitations. Executives at Apple led by Jon Rubenstein created the audio player out of the company's "digital hub", with the aim of placing "a thousand songs in your pocket". Ranging from the "mini" and "shuffle" models to the larger, original "classic" and "touch" with a colour screen, iPods are universally run with "iTunes" software downloadable from Apple.

Nokia 5110

It didn't take photos or video. It had no infra-red, internet, "media" or games – apart from Snake. But it made calls, perhaps – with one of the best battery life capabilities of any mobile phone – more reliably than any of its thousands of successors. Though now considered to be a "brick", the Nokia 5110, launched in 1998, was the first truly popular mobile.

Sony Walkman

At the time of its launch, this distinctly Eighties product was, believe it or not, the must-have portable accessory for the music lover. The idea of walking around with a selection of tapes is now unheard of.

Model T

Though it was the 1908 "Model T", or "Tin Lizzie", that Henry Ford is reputed to have offered in "any colour as long as its black", the classic motor, produced relatively cheaply on an assembly line, is credited as that which "put America on wheels", and burst driving into the mainstream. The car, produced until 1927, was made in black because the paint dried quicker.

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