As much as GoPro Inc (NASDAQ:GPRO) has tried to move its business beyond the Hero line of action cameras, it can't seem to shake the product's dominance of its finances. The media business didn't work out, the Karma drone may already be a bust, and even the Fusion 360 camera's potential is an unknown at this point.
GoPro made a lot of strides making Hero a hot product last holiday season, mainly by improving the form factor and adding voice controls. But this year, it needs to take a big step forward to remain a hot product for consumers.
Plus was a step in the right direction
The biggest flaw in GoPro's products has always been the difficulty in offloading content from a camera and putting it somewhere useful, like on social media. When the Hero 5 came out GoPro addressed that challenge with GoPro Plus, a cloud service that automatically offloads content wirelessly once your GoPro is plugged in. The product is a step in the right direction, but it only allows limited resolution and limits the amount of content, not to mention the deterrent of a $4.99 per month fee.
GoPro could easily improve the Plus product this year, potentially making it free and easier to connect to through a smartphone. But cloud storage is more of a necessity now that Apple, Google, Dropbox, and others offer free storage. The real advance would be taking a cue from dominant social media platforms Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Instagram, and Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and going live with GoPro content.
Can GoPro go live?
Live content has started permeating social media, led by Twitter's Periscope and Facebook Live. Instagram also has live feeds and Snap (NYSE:SNAP) is all but live with its live story feed. These platforms have been extremely successful so far, but they still rely on a smartphone to capture content. And using a smartphone to capture truly amazing content like a great ski run, a child's first steps, or even a protest can be clunky at best.
GoPro can fill this gap naturally with its cameras designed to be worn and highly durable. But they need to connect to these live feeds, and for GoPro to have a truly great holiday season I think GoPro has to be able to go live.
GoPro could always go the wired route to a smartphone, something it does with HeroCast for live broadcasting content. Some people may find that to be an acceptable solution, especially given the battery drain of current wireless connections on a GoPro, but it's not ideal.
Going through a smartphone to access social media seems like a natural solution for GoPro this year. A Facebook Live stream or automatic Snapchat upload would be good advancements and broaden the use case for a GoPro.
But the real game changer would be a camera with live streaming capability straight to the cloud or social media through a 4G connection. Fellow Fool Leo Sun recently speculated that this could come from a Snapdragon system on a chip with a modem from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM). Being able to live stream on social media with a GoPro would be a real game changer and make Hero 6 a must have this holiday season.
GoPro needs to make a splash
There's no question GoPro knows its weaknesses and what it needs to improve in 2017. It's spent over a year improving editing apps and making offloading content easier. But we don't know if the company can engineer the connected camera consumers will be wowed by this holiday season. Hero 6 is still the most important upcoming product in GoPro's lineup, no matter how big Karma or Fusion become, and if it's going to be a hit this holiday season I think 4G connectivity and easy live streaming to social media must be available.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Travis Hoium owns shares of Apple and GoPro. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Apple, Facebook, GoPro, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm and has the following options: short January 2019 $12 calls on GoPro and long January 2019 $12 puts on GoPro. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.