The Astonishing Success of the Flip Camcorder

David Pogue has an insightful discussion of Pure Digital’s Flip Camcorder, which has taken 13% of the US camcorder market since it was introduced last year:

All of this despite having an absolutely abyssmal feature list. The part that caught my attention is where he tries to tease out why people love it so much when it’s so severely crippled by many standards, and ends up comparing it with the Graffitti system that Palm introduced:

Funny story: years ago, Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm, decided to develop the Graffiti handwriting-recognition alphabet for the original touch-screen Pilot. Since no technology can recognize everyone’s handwriting, he reasoned, he’d design a special block-letter alphabet that gives you 100 percent accuracy – if you form your letters his way.

His employees thought it was a terrible idea. Make customers relearn the alphabet?

But Hawkins, a brain scientist, knew something about people: if you’re successful at something the first time you try, you fall instantly in love with it. And sure enough: people fell in love the first time they wrote on a Pilot with the special alphabet and saw their letters turn into perfectly typed text.

That’s how it is with devices like the Flip. They’re so simple, mastery is immediate, and so is your sense of pride and happiness.

I wonder what product and interaction designers make of this analysis. Is instant mastery the key to a good user experience, or is Pogue missing the point?

I’m glad to see this product get success. Just like the iPod did, I think this product looked through the feature marketing BS and just gave the user what they needed. I think that’s why it is successful.

I think ease-of-use goals should be, “can the user open the package and start playing without reading the manual?” I don’t remember the Palm being that easy to pick up and use. However, never owning one, I don’t think I can make the call.

Anyone own a Palm? How long did it take to get used to the alphabet?

There’s another post about this product here:

At the IDEA ceremony it was great to hear the rep from the company get up and say something to the effect of :

we have sold over x million units since x date of something that is truly “just another video camera” with a great design

my buddy had a palm when they first came out and the graffiti was pretty quick to pick up (ie I wasn’t the primary user and was able to use it fairly quickly and anytime after that first time that I picked it up with no relearning)

It’s an interesting form factor and seems to produce decent images for the money. For me, though, it completely fails as a helmet cam or for other action activities. Go Pro’s Hero succeeds a bit more there- they use them for motorsports and even suggest mounting it inside the grille of your car on track days…

That said, for documenting what the kids are up to? Seems pretty darn slick, though removable memory would make a lot of sense for some folks (especially on extended Holidays)…