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Is GoPro going to lose its monopoly with the rise of the drone?

Written by: Emily Gallagher

Published on: June 16, 2015

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As the market for drone cameras is rapidly expanding, GoPro announces their first independent venture into drones.

Mass adoption of the micro camera

Initially intended for use in extreme sports, the GoPro was soon adopted by the masses, who spotted ingenious ways to use the technology to enhance their lives. CEO and founder Nick Woodman’s love of surfing was sparked by seeing some incredible photos from Surfer magazine aged eight and, as he searched for ways to capture footage of himself surfing, the idea for the GoPro was born. Now, usage has evolved and ranges from dash cams to pet tracking; people have found ways to utilize these cameras to remove friction from their lives.

The rise of the drone

A similar trajectory can be seen in the use of drone cameras. Lauded by civil engineers as the way to revolutionize structural surveying in hard to reach places, drones are being used to remove the friction in many industries.

As with many nascent tech products, as the technology becomes more accessible, people will want it in a personal capacity; drones have already become de rigueur at weddings, on holidays and in sport as they offer a previously inaccessible and cinematic perspective.

Cultural adoption can be equally as important as business adoption as, usually, the company with the largest consumer base will have the most developed product. So, with drone cameras being widely available since 2013, is GoPro, with their projected 2016 drone release, going to be able to hold on to its market share?

The current market

GoPro is playing catch-up because the drone market has been steadily rising over the past few years. Already in partnership with drone manufacturers like DJI and 3D Robotics, GoPro see manufacturing their own drone as the next logical step as estimates suggest as many as 10% of GoPros sold today are being attached to drones. But, with DJI as the market leader, raising $75 million last month and outranking GoPro with an $8 billion valuation to their $7.5 billion, can GoPro compete?

GoPro definitely risk being overshadowed. After an initial rapid growth, their sales have slowed from 2013, with an increase of 42% being seen in 2014 in comparison to the previous doubling or tripling of sales. Conversely, after amassing $500 million in revenue in 2014, DJI is expected to double sales this year. With the release of their own drone, GoPro’s relationship with these companies threatens to become less symbiotic and more competitive.

Up-and-coming competitors

It’s not only the established drones that threaten to tempt GoPro’s customers away. There are some innovative new challengers, including Lily, a recently released autonomous drone. One the draws of GoPro is the ease in which amateur photographers can capture incredible cinematic footage, an area on which Lily is encroaching with its removal of friction in operating a drone.

Another big competitor is Nixie, the wearable drone. Identifying the friction caused by missing an opportunity to capture something on camera, Nixie makes it impossible to do so by constantly being in attendance. Strapped to your wrist, Nixie can fly off with a gesture, capture the moment and return like a boomerang. The winner of a wearable computing competition run by Intel, Nixie has a strong backing and promises to challenge the drone market when released.

Is GoPro really at risk?

Although drones like Lily and Nixie promise the future, is that what GoPro’s customer base are looking for? A large proportion of GoPro users are amateur photographers and the company recognizes this. When discussing the projected plans for the drone, CEO Nick Woodman emphasized that GoPro are, at their core, a ‘consumer focused company’, with the suggestion being that the drone will be affordable.

Is this the same market these more advanced drones are targeting? With Lily costing $999 and Nixie not yet disclosing the price, but admitting it will be more than a GoPro, possibly not. There will undeniably be an overlap, but the audiences they are targeting are significantly different.

Although similar to GoPro in that they are initially targeting a niche sports market, ultimately, Nixie and Lily won’t have the same appeal as GoPro. For example, with Nixie’s USP being its constant availability and extreme portability, it is appealing to a market that prioritise convenience over all other factors, including cost and versatility.

Reasons why GoPro still have a handle on their market:

1. Their camera is the most affordable.
2. Their camera is detachable. Lots of people already have a GoPro so it makes sense to just buy the drone accessory, and it’s more versatile for when you want a camera that isn’t aerial.
3. They have customer loyalty. People have already invested in GoPro; they’ve bought the camera, probably bought other accessories, the drone is just the next step or, as Woodman puts it, ‘the ultimate accessory’.
4. GoPro considers the whole user experience. Although the other drones may have made advances in reducing friction in production, they haven’t considered post-production. GoPro has its own editing suite, GoPro Studio, which offers templates to help people turn their raw footage into something interesting and shareable. This eliminates the barrier to creating video content, which is a huge point of friction for GoPro users.
5. GoPro has the best marketing strategy. It has capitalized on user-generated content and used YouTube as a platform to capture people’s attention and make people feel like creating incredible content with a GoPro is a tangible goal.

All this being said, it is likely other companies will outstrip GoPro in the drone market if they don’t continue to innovate. For example, GoPros were not conceptualized to be aerial cameras – they were made to be tough, so are not as small and light enough to be as compatible with a drone as they could be. It is glaringly apparent that GoPro’s competitors are leaps and bounds ahead in some respects, but in terms of the full user experience and knowledge of their market, GoPro ultimately come out on top. It’s just a matter of maintaining their position in the face of so many competitors entering their market.