GoPro's (GPRO 0.61%) recently introduced Karma quadcopter won't land on store shelves until Oct. 23. But thanks to a new competing drone from Chinese market leader DJI, many naysayers are already calling GoPro's newest product a failure.
More specifically, though many industry watchers expected DJI to respond in the coming months with a successor to its larger, more expensive Phantom 4 drone, it instead sent shock waves through the market by introducing the smaller, cheaper Mavic Pro -- and this a little more than a week after Karma's launch event.
Like Karma, Mavic Pro's folding design makes it delightfully compact and portable. But on paper, it also "beats" GoPro's Karma on several fronts, including flight time (27 minutes vs. Karma's 20), top speed (40 mph vs. Karma's 35 mph), and maximum range (7 km vs. Karma's 3 km). What's more, Mavic Pro features impressive "follow-me" functionality and object avoidance -- two notable omissions from Karma's skill set.
Naturally, GoPro stock initially plunged more than 8% on DJI's announcement. But it also largely recovered by the end of that day as investors digested the news. In my opinion, there are three big reasons Karma should have no problem succeeding even in the face of its new rival.
Considering its roots as part of GoPro, it should come as no surprise Karma works with both GoPro's HERO4 and HERO5 series cameras. But this also creates a few built-in advantages.
First, unlike Mavic Pro, Karma's GoPro cameras are removable, giving users the added flexibility of taking their GoPro places they wouldn't otherwise want to bring a drone. On top of that, Karma includes a world-class stabilizer that can be removed, then used along with "Karma Grip" (also included), which features its own chargeable battery and can be handheld, gear-mounted, or body-worn.
Take a look, for example, at Karma Grip's stunning stabilization captured by YouTube star Casey Neistat, who opted to mount it to the strap of Karma's included backpack:
Second, Karma can be purchased for a surprisingly low $799 without a camera, making it an attractive option for millions upon millions of consumers who already own a GoPro HERO4 or HERO5 device. For those who don't, you can either tack on $200 to include the HERO5 Session (which normally costs $299.99), for a total of $999, or $300 to include the HERO5 Black (which normally runs $399.99), bringing Karma's maximum price to $1,099. Again, this includes the Karma drone, a backpack with a molded interior storage compartment, Karma Grip, and a game-style controller with a touchscreen display.
By comparison, Mavik can be purchased at $999 with a similar controller, or $749 without one, as it can also be controlled using DJI's smartphone app. But even with the latter, consumers also lose the attractive flexibility of the removable camera, stabilizer, and backpack, further diminishing Mavic Pro's value proposition.
Next, DJI might command an overwhelming 80% share of the consumer drone market, but its name is still unfamiliar to many people outside the drone-enthusiast community. Meanwhile, GoPro is already a household name thanks to its similar command of the action=camera market, as well as the network effect created by the troves of stunning footage millions of people have captured using those cameras.
So if any one company can put a dent in DJI's drone dominance, I think it's GoPro. It remains to be seen whether that dent comes via pulling away a small number of dedicated drone "prosumers" who want to try something different, or (more likely) pulling a larger number of new drone consumers off the fence and into the market by virtue of familiarity with GoPro's name. But as fellow Fool Travis Hoium pointed out last week, GoPro only needs to secure a small slice of the drone market to have a meaningful positive impact on its top and bottom lines.
Room to improve
Finally, GoPro's doubters would do well to remember that Karma represents its inaugural effort in the drone market. And GoPro management has made it clear they have no intention of sitting on their heels.
In an interview with Engadget shortly after the Karma launch event, Pablo Lema, GoPro's senior director of aerial products, offered a reminder of GoPro's acquisition of autonomous flight specialist Skybotix last year, referring to them as GoPro's "advanced navigation team that's working on some future product ideas."
"I think you'll see some stuff coming out of GoPro in future products that'll be pretty incredible," Lema elaborated. "We have full teams that work on collision avoidance."
Of course, I've already noted Karma lacks the collision avoidance or follow-me features for which many consumers had hoped. Instead, Karma focuses on absolute ease of use, and (in addition to manual controls) offers a series of pre-programmed "auto shot paths" including Orbit (which circles around the user), Dronie (which dramatically pans up and out), Cable Cam (to travel between two points), and Reveal (which raises the camera slowly as it approaches a subject).
If one thing is sure, however, it's that this is only the beginning for Karma, and consumers and investors can expect much more from GoPro as it works to win over the drone market going forward.