With Steve Jobs back, Apple goes after Flip

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    Marked for death? The full lineup of Pure Digital's Flip Ultra video camera faces a major challenger in Apple's new iPod Nano.
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At the Apple announcement Wednesday, held at San Francisco's Yerba Buena center, we saw the return of one of Silicon Valley's favorite icons, the black turtleneck and worn Levis of Steve Jobs. Back after 11 months out of the spotlight for health reasons, he and his gang touted the success of Apple's iPod and iPhone lines, took turns taking shots at Microsoft, and rolled out an update to iTunes – all par for the course.

But an unfamiliar – and unexpected – thing happened, too. With the announcement that it was dropping a video camera into every iPod Nano sold, Apple declared open season on Pure Digital's Flip.

The line of cute, dead-simple video cameras has become a tech darling, wowing reviewers from afar afield as USA Today, Fast Company, and The San Francisco Chronicle, not to mention, ahem, The Christian Science Monitor.

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And it seems like reviewers aren't the only ones to have fallen for Flip's diminutive little video shooters – the two year-old company managed to grab a quarter of the US camcorder market last year – second only to Sony – and was purchased by tech giant Cisco in March for a cool $590 million. With the new iPod Nano and the less-new iPhone 3GS, Apple is going after a slice of that pie.

So it's doomsday for the Flip, right? Not so fast. Apple's entrant to the hard-drive-based basic camcorder field may be smaller – Jobs pointed out the Nano's 1.1 cubic-inch waist size compared to the Flip's 10.9 inches – and include the same dead-simple recording, basic editing, and YouTube uploading features, but it still comes up short.

Take video quality: Flip's newest models are capable of shooting video at 1280 x 720 – the bottom-end of what's considered HD. Apple's new iPod Nano manages just 640 x 480. And don't forget simplicity. Hand them a Flip camera and the average grandparent can be shooting video in seconds. Try that with an iPod Nano, with its myriad feature list and growing array of capabilities (hey, it has a pedometer now!) and you'll likely have one confused granny.

And finally, though we've recently decried the existence of "unitaskers," if there's one thing that will save the Flip from death at the hands of Apple, it's simplicity. There's something special about a device that does one thing very well, and for simple video shooting and uploading in a no-frills, all-in-one package, for now, the Flip wins.

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