The GoPro Karma launched on September 19th and generated a lot of buzz in tech community. GoPro, being a leading action camera manufacturer, has proven that it can make quality, versatile products. In 2012 and 2013, GoPros were the de facto drone cameras. For the Phantom 2s, F450, F550, and other DIY drones, having a GoPro was a must. The drone industry was booming, and GoPro sales went up in tow.
How DJI Spoiled Everything
On April 6th 2014 DJI announced Phantom 2 Vision+ that had its own gimbal-camera on board. Users didn’t have to purchase GoPro cameras for the drones anymore. In just one night, GoPro lost a huge piece of the market, and that was the beginning of the end for them. Sales of their flagship Hero series cameras started to sink. And DJI didn’t stop there. In the first quarter of 2015, DJI announced the Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced. These drones’ cameras didn’t have fisheye distortion, and camera settings could be controlled through the DJI GO app. Surfers, cyclists, and snowboarders kept buying GoPros, but drone enthusiasts and aerial photographers now had much better options to go for. Some other brands like 3D Robotics were still building their drones to be compatible with GoPro cameras. However, that didn’t help them much with sales, since 3DR went out of the business after DJI dropped the price of the Phantom 3. GoPros just weren’t in the air anymore.
GoPro Banks on Karma to Conquer The Sky
After long 2 years, GoPro finally released their much-anticipated Karma drone. Karma is so much more than a drone, as Nick Woodman said. The drone’s gimbal doubled as a handheld stabilizer, so you could easily get silky smooth shots from the sky and on the ground. The Karma didn’t have a lot of advanced features like modern drones do, and from technological point of view, it was closer to Phantom 2. However, GoPro presented this as an advantage, saying that Karma was all about simplicity.
DJI Spoiled Everything…Again
Exactly after one week of the GoPro’s Karma announcement, DJI released the Mavic Pro. DJI’s new drone was so much smaller, lighter and technologically advanced it single-handedly foiled GoPro’s plans to “get back in the air.” Just so you understand how huge is the gap between DJI Mavic and GoPro Karma, check out our comparison:
GoPro Keeps Sinking
At the beginning of November 2016, GoPro Reported a 20% loss in Q3. Their losses were approximately $104M for the third quarter. However, the bad news didn’t stop there. While everyone was paying attention to the presidential election, GoPro issued a recall of the all Karma drones they sold (2500 units). They were recalled because of battery issues that could suddenly cut the power to the drone. As all of us understand, that is the huge threat to the public safety.
Let’s say at an altitude of 100 meters Karma’s battery shuts down and the drone starts falling from the sky. A GoPro Karma with Hero 5 weighs about 1.3kg, so its speed at the moment of impact will equal 170 kmh or about 105 mph. I think there is no need to explain danger and possible lethality of this thing.
The product recall was the right thing to do, especially if they couldn’t solve the issue with firmware upgrades like other drone companies do.
Why did GoPro Karma Fail?
Lack of Experience
It is GoPro’s very first drone, so some imperfections were to be expected. The consumer drone market leader, DJI, has been making drones for years, and only in 2011 did they start providing more or less good products. Yes, there were a lot of hardware and software issues in DJI drones too, but they have learned how to make good drones over the years and support them. It didn’t just happen in 1 day.
Lack of Innovations
The GoPro Karma is all about simplicity, they say. Maybe that’s why they didn’t include some features most of the drones have these days. Karma seems like a great drone for 2014. But not in 2016, where drones avoid obstacles, fly precisely indoors, and have various redundancy features. The handheld gimbal is a great feature and selling point. But we have seen this design on the Inspire 1 and Yuneec Q500, so again, this is not exactly something new. The Karma and Mavic were both announced at the end of September. But there are so many features that the Mavic has and Karma doesn’t.
One of the big trends in the drone industry this year is obstacle avoidance. The Phantom 4, Typhoon H and Mavic have this feature, and it’s a major selling point. GoPro, on the other hand, didn’t find it necessary to add obstacle avoidance to the Karma, and potential customers were upset. It’s definitely not a feature that you will use every day. But hey, in some cases it can be a life saver. Same as Airbags in your car. Do you use them every day? No. But do you want to drive a car with no airbags?
With only lackluster offerings, the Karma costs $799 without a camera. With the Hero 5, the Karma will run you $1100. That’s quite steep pricing, even considering that you get a hand-held stabilizer. Plus, there is too much competition around the $1000 price tag. If GoPro’s drone cost $799 with Hero 5 included, that would be a different story.
There is a chance for the GoPro Karma to get back into the market after their R&D fixes the power issue, but most likely this product is not going to be successful, unless they start selling it at a huge discount. But again, in that case it would be hard for the company to get back to profitability again. Ultimately, the Karma is not going to help GoPro’s finances, and all they can rely on is the Hero 5 and Session 5.
Thanks for reading!