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4 Signs Google Wants to Bury GoPro

By Leo Sun - May 13, 2018 at 5:00PM

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How did GoPro’s biggest partner evolve into a competitor?

Three years ago, Alphabet's (GOOG 5.20%) (GOOGL 5.11%) Google partnered with GoPro (GPRO -1.49%) to bring VR videos to YouTube via a platform called Jump. Filmmakers would use the platform to deliver videos from Odyssey, a 16-camera rig co-developed by Google and GoPro, to YouTube.

Many GoPro investors saw the partnership as a catalyst for the company. But GoPro didn't start shipping the Odyssey until a year later, and its $15,000 price tag ensured that it would remain a niche device. It then launched a "cheaper" alternative, the six-camera Omni, for $5,000.

A GoPro camera.

Image source: GoPro.

Over time, GoPro started to talk less about its partnership with Google. Meanwhile, Google made several moves to compete against GoPro and aid its competitors. Here are four clear signs that Google wants consumers to forget about GoPro.

1. Partnering with Yi Technologies

Xiaomi-backed Yi Technologies produces action cameras that sport specs identical to those of GoPro's cameras at much lower prices. That's why Google, likely realizing GoPro's $15,000 price tag on the Odyssey was too high, brought Yi onboard the Jump platform in late 2016.

Yi's 16-camera rig was about $2,000 cheaper than the Odyssey. At the time, that made it the cheapest high-end VR filmmaking rig on the market. Last April, Google and Yi revealed the Halo, a 17-camera rig for shooting 8K VR videos on the Jump platform, for $17,000. Yet Google didn't work with GoPro to launch a second-generation Odyssey.

2. Opening up YouTube VR to GoPro's rivals

GoPro had a first mover's advantage in the VR space, but many companies realized they needed to launch much cheaper stand-alone cameras to gain mainstream users.

Standalone 360-degree cameras like Ricoh's Theta, Samsung's Gear 360, Garmin's Virb 360, Insta360's One, and Yi's 360 VR all addressed that demand, and Google opened up YouTube VR to those device makers. GoPro arrived much later to the party with the Fusion in late 2017.

Google's embrace of rival VR devices notably pushed GoPro to launch its own VR channel and app, GoPro VR, but the move merely isolated its users from YouTube's much larger user base.

3. Launching the Clips Camera

Last October, Google launched Clips, a wearable camera that constantly captures content without any user interactions. The camera, which can be clipped to clothes, held, or set down, uses Google's AI to recognize faces that matter to you, and automatically starts capturing pictures and short videos.

Google's Clips camera.

Google's Clips camera. Image source: Google.

At the time, the $249 device seemed like a potential rival to GoPro's cameras. However, Clips videos lacked audio and only captured brief seven-second "clips". Luckily for GoPro, those bite-sized videos didn't appeal to its core users.

4. Co-developing Lenovo's Mirage camera

In early May, Google and Lenovo (LNVGY 2.41%) revealed the Mirage camera, a $300 point-and-click camera for capturing 180-degree VR photos and videos. Its VR180 format directly integrates with Google Photos and YouTube. It also allows users to live stream content to a VR headset.

Lenovo's Mirage camera.

Lenovo's Mirage camera. Image source: Lenovo.

Therefore, the Mirage looks like a compelling alternative to GoPro's Fusion, which has a 360-degree field of view but costs $700. Google and Lenovo are also promoting the Mirage camera as a companion device for its new Mirage Solo stand-alone VR headset.

Should GoPro worry about Google?

GoPro investors shouldn't worry about Google becoming its biggest direct competitor anytime soon. Other rival camera makers, like Samsung and Garmin, and better smartphone cameras pose bigger threats.

Nonetheless, Google's moves strongly suggest that it doesn't think GoPro has a bright future. Neither do analysts or investors: Wall Street expects GoPro's revenue to slide 9% this year, and the stock tumbled 35% over the past 12 months.

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GoPro, Inc. Stock Quote
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Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
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Lenovo Group Stock Quote
Lenovo Group
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Alphabet Inc.
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