GoPro is taking to the sky with a much-awaited drone called Karma in the hope of lifting profits, which have been battered by competition from all sides.
The Karma drone, tailored for GoPro’s Hero 4 and improved Hero5 cameras, launches on October 23, and costs US$799.
The drone uses simple joystick and touch-screen controls, and folds easily into a padded backpack that is provided. An image-stabilising grip in the drone is designed to hold Hero cameras.
“We transformed GoPro into an end-to-end storytelling solution,” says company chief Nick Woodman.
GoPro’s much anticipated entry into the drone market comes as the California-based company strives to distinguish itself in an increasingly competitive market.
Chinese manufacturer SZ DJI Technology has been dominating the drone market, where many smaller companies producing cheaper drones are also pushing for market share.
Colin Snow, founder of Skylogic Research, says that GoPro’s Karma may experience teething issues.
“Almost no drone we’ve ever seen comes out without a host of problems,” he says.
Reviews of GoPro’s latest product have been mixed so far. Tech magazine WIRED pointed out that the company originally intended to have DJI produce GoPro-branded quadcopters but the collaboration fell apart after GoPro reportedly demanded two-thirds of the potential profits.
“The Karma is great fun to fly and capable of capturing absolutely stunning footage, but that’s about it,” says the website.
“If it had one feature that lifted it above the competition, such as long battery life or near-crashproof design, it’d be worth the steep asking price. As it stands, though, this underwhelming quadcopter doesn’t quite offer enough to get excited about.”
While website Engadget’s reviewer says Karma features a sleek and compact design, with foldable blades that will make it easy to fit into a backpack: “I only spent about 10 minutes testing the Karma, but that was enough for me to come away impressed. That’s mainly because of how easy it is to fly and pair with either the GoPro Hero5 Black or the smaller Session [or Hero4 Black/Silver].”
The new Hero5 Black and Hero5 Session cameras, which include features such as multilanguage voice control and ultra high-definition image quality, was released yesterday costing US$399 and US$299 respectively.
Karma drones bundled with Hero5 cameras will cost US$1,099 for the Black model or US$999 for the Session.
The company is setting out to build its adventure-oriented community, and create a steady revenue stream, with a GoPro Plus subscription service that uploads imagery to the internet cloud and provides simple tools for editing and sharing from smartphones or desktop computers.
GoPro Plus, which went live yesterday, costs US$4.99 per month.
Smartphone applications were crafted to let people edit or even remotely control cameras from Apple or Android powered handsets.
Woodman said GoPro was packing more into its cameras, and making it easy for users to quickly compose story vignettes to share, whether doing adventure sports or enjoying beautiful moments.
Early this year, GoPro launched a programme to collaborate with outside developers to make it easy to use its mini cameras with apps or sync them with other devices. The company also hired an Apple veteran as vice president of the GoPro design team.
GoPro was an early hit with extreme sports enthusiasts who used the mini-cameras to film their exploits, and went on to win over teens and young adults interested in sharing videos on YouTube and social networks.
Woodman said that more than 20 million GoPro cameras have “captured the incredible.”
The company went public in June 2014 with shares initially priced at US$24 that soared in subsequent months, more than tripling in value at one point. But the stock price slid last year as investors worried about the company’s growth prospects and the possible saturation of an increasingly competitive market. In the fourth quarter of 2015, GoPro lost about US$34 million, as revenue sank 31 per cent from the same period in 2014, to US$436.6 million.
The earnings report fell well short of financial analysts’ expectations, sparked a series of downgrades and sent GoPro’s shares plunging as competition from smartphone makers turned out to be more threatening than forecast. This means the Karma launch is instrumental for a revival of the company’s fortunes.
“GoPro’s Karma has potential to gain decent traction,” says Snow, “if it’s priced under US$1,000 and has all the capabilities of existing drones in that price category.”