GoPro's (NASDAQ:GPRO) Karma drone won't hit store shelves until later this month, but that doesn't mean the company isn't already thinking about what's next.
But before we get there, perspective is in order.
A solid start
Karma is already a compelling product. On the hardware side, it has a sleek, portable design with folding rotor arms and landing gear, an included backpack with a molded interior, and an easy-to-use gaming-style controller with a built-in touchscreen display. Per GoPro's promise that "Karma is more than just a drone," it also features a removable gimbal that can be used with the included Karma Grip, which is a handheld or gear mounted option for stellar stabilized video, even without the drone.
On the software side, GoPro created a slick feature for Karma called "auto shot paths," where users can select from a number of preset paths they would like the drone to follow in order to capture professional-quality videos with a cinematic feel.
The "dronie" path, for example, directs Karma to take a drone selfie, so to speak, by starting at and focusing on your location, then zooming out as it flies up and away. Meanwhile, the "cable cam" path helps the drone travel back and forth between two points in space, allowing you to move the camera through the controller interface as you see fit. Next -- and just like it sounds -- the "orbit" path has Karma travel in a circle while focusing the camera on its center. Finally, the "reveal" path has the drone travel forward while gradually shifting the camera from looking straight down to straight ahead.
Karma also comes with a slick "flight simulator" mode on the remote, enabling anyone to learn how to fly the drone before they take it for a real spin. On top of that, when Karma hits store shelves on Oct. 23, 2016, GoPro will launch its Passenger App, which allows friends to view your flight and control the camera on the drone through a smartphone.
Bested by the competition?
During GoPro's post-launch-event conference call with analysts, however, CEO Nick Woodman confirmed Karma won't ship with "follow-me" or object avoidance functionality -- two things many industry watchers had assumed would need to be present for Karma to prove a viable competitor in the drone space.
To GoPro's credit, Woodman elaborated on their reasoning for the omission, stating:
Karma won't have follow-me or object avoidance at launch. But you should note that the experience that other drones actually provide in those categories is not at the level that we felt that there's enough value there for consumers. So we decided to spend our time, engineering focus, and investment in producing a user experience that we thought would really benefit the user today. And that's namely the versatility, the portability, and just the outright convenience of Karma.
In short, GoPro is betting consumers will respond better to Karma's differentiating features because they're focused primarily on convenience and ease of use. That's fair enough; I can't blame GoPro for not including sub-par features for the sake of saying they're present. And by focusing on ease of use, GoPro may also have created a distinct advantage with potential customers outside the typical "pro-sumer" market primarily targeted by other high-end drones.
But that's also not to say GoPro isn't working feverishly to improve future iterations of its flying robot.
To the contrary, in an interview with Engadget last month, Pablo Lena, GoPro's senior director of aerial products, referred to his company's September 2015 acquisition of antonymous drone technology specialist Skybotix, calling it their "advanced navigation team that's working on some future product ideas."
We look at what's happening with technologies in the industry. I think you'll see some stuff coming out of GoPro in future products that'll be pretty incredible. We have full teams that work on collision avoidance.
It remains to be seen just how long it will take GoPro to formally implement next-gen features they deem ready for prime time. And in the meantime, GoPro's calculated bet on simplicity and a satisfying user experience leaves it at the mercy of fickle consumers in the fast-changing drone industry. But in the end, if one thing is clear, it's that GoPro has much more planned for the Karma drone going forward.