SAN FRANCISCO — In the last year, Pure Digital, a small San Francisco start-up, has shown the world’s consumer electronics companies how to build a camcorder that regular people actually use.
It has sold nearly one million units of its Flip Camcorder, a $149 four-button video recording device that has attracted the admiration of Oprah Winfrey and accolades from jaded product reviewers. It has been able to carve out a 20 percent share of a device category long characterized by flat sales and user manuals the size of Russian novels.
To stave off a flood of imitation products from more-established device makers seeking to copy its formula for success, on Wednesday Pure Digital will begin selling a slender new model, the Flip Video Mino.
The Mino is 40 percent smaller than the previous version of the Flip, the Ultra. It has curved edges and is meant to slip into the pockets or pocketbooks of youthful members of the MySpace generation, and can record up to 60 minutes of video. It has the same pop-out U.S.B. plug as its predecessor that, when inserted into a computer, easily transfers video onto the PC and onto video-sharing sites like YouTube.
The device will sell for $179 in major retail stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and on Web sites like Amazon.com, where the original Flip devices of various colors are currently four of the five best sellers in the camcorder category.
The Mino actually has slightly less to offer than its predecessor, which is precisely the point. Instead of requiring replaceable AA batteries, there is an internal rechargeable battery that holds only about four hours of power and charges when the device is plugged into a PC. The Mino also has touch-sensitive buttons that recede into the casing.
“The Mino is designed to be with you and let you be creative and share with the world all the visible and viral things you capture,” said Jonathan Kaplan, chief executive of Pure Digital. “We are trying to make video fun again.”
The popularity of such a simple device has been an eye-opener for the consumer electronics industry. Device makers have been obsessed with adding, not subtracting, features to camcorders, such as high-definition video recording and more refined optical zoom. But those features just confused many prospective buyers.
“The cliché is true. The camcorder was something that sat in the closet until people brought it out in a special moment, only to find out that the batteries were dead,” said Paul Worthington, an analyst at Future Image, a research firm. “With the Flip, you are not missing the moment while you try to figure out menu options.”
Its appeal to consumers has not gone unnoticed. In May, Creative Technology, a device maker based in Singapore, introduced the Vado, a strikingly similar camcorder that cost $50 less than the Flip Ultra and has a slightly larger L.C.D. screen.
Sony, Aiptek and Audiovox’s RCA have all introduced camcorders for under $200 in the last few months, and Mr. Kaplan believes the other major electronics makers, such as Samsung and Sanyo, are not far behind. “They realized this is an interesting market,” he said.
To stay competitive, Pure Digital has ripped a page from Apple’s playbook. The Mino is to the Flip Ultra what the Nano was to the original iPod — smaller, stripped down, but sleeker.
Mr. Kaplan is also borrowing that studied insouciance from Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, and resisting other people’s suggestions for adding to Flip camcorders. Customers and its retail partners have all asked for more features, Mr. Kaplan said, such as optical zoom, longer battery life and an SD slot to add external memory. With the Mino, Pure Digital is ignoring them.
“It takes a huge amount of value for you to see us add anything to the Flip,” Mr. Kaplan said. “We resist ‘feature creep’ like no other company in the world today. When our products get more complicated, they get less easy to use and less fun.”