Last year was abysmal for GoPro Inc (NASDAQ:GPRO). The company's stock dropped 72%, and sales in the fourth quarter dropped 31% on weak demand.
But the core of the problem was that GoPro didn't have a compelling camera offering for consumers. The Hero4 line of cameras was marginally better than Hero3, but not enough to get millions of people to upgrade, and a cluttered product line made it difficult to see what the difference between each product was. The Session camera launch, which took a brunt of the publicity backlash, was priced too high and simply didn't resonate with consumers.
The 2016 line of Hero5 cameras is greatly simplified and brings some features that are a real improvement for GoPro. And they may finally bring a much needed upgrade cycle in the action camera market.
Why Hero5 will be a hit
The Hero5 line is slimmed down from a year ago, with the high end $399 Hero5 Black, a $299 Hero5 Session, and the same Hero Session model as last year for $199. All three come with HD video quality, and unless you're looking to shoot 4k video, there's really no advantage to moving beyond the baseline Session model. But there are some nice features that will get customers to upgrade.
Both Hero5 Black and Session will include image stabilization technology that will help create a smooth video. If you've used a GoPro for activities like skiing or car racing, you know how shaky the video can be, so this will be a nice feature.
The bigger upgrade for 2016 will be voice controls, which come on the top two models. You can tell the camera to take a picture or a video, which again is a nice feature given how people use GoPros in action sports.
There's also an auto upload to the cloud option for customers who sign up for GoPro Plus. For a heavy user, that could be a nice feature.
This could make GoPro a hit
Taking image stabilization and usability to another level, GoPro introduced the Karma Grip as well. This is a product that comes with the Karma Drone, but it can be purchased separately as well for $299.99.
Karma Grip is essentially a stick with a gimbal on the end to create a silky smooth image. The grip has full control of the GoPro, which will be great for taking videos while moving. The gimbal can also be attached to GoPro mounts, allowing bikers, skiers, snowboarders, and more the ability to attach a GoPro to themselves and get a great image. During a presentation Monday, Nick Woodman highlighted this feature by showing a smooth video from a BMX biker, which would have been impossible to take without the combination of the physical stabilizer and the digital stabilization.
New features could make GoPro hot again
Nick Woodman and the GoPro team appear to have learned a lot from their missteps in 2015 and are finding a way to differentiate their products from the smartphones most people already have in their pockets. Image stabilization, voice controls, and Karma Grip make the Hero5 line one that customers will consider upgrading to. And when combined with the Karma Drone, it should lead to a strong holiday season for the company. That would be welcome news after what GoPro went through last year.