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GoPro Announces IPO, Finding Weak Spot in Wearables Market

By Tyler Lacoma – Feb 14, 2014 at 3:00AM

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GoPro's upcoming IPO shows that the wearable market is more segmented than it looks.

If you have active friends on social media, you may have seen some GoPro posts and videos: Rock climbing, skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, sky-and-scuba diving, and much more. Thanks to weather/water proof cases, increasingly easy mountability, and a surplus of cool, GoPro footage is showing up everywhere -- including at Felix Baumgartner's famed 2012 stratosphere jump.

This is a market that Google's delicate flower can't tap, and shows a key split in the wearables market -- the divide between the more established sports wearables and still-uncertain tech wearables. The success of GoPro has finally led to its awaited IPO, which we hoped for in 2013. The signs were there for those watching (including the February appointment of Jack Lazar as CFO), but the filing was a quiet affair, accompanied by a brief, little more than a memo-like press release. The casual attitude may be intentional; In many ways, GoPro's success speaks for itself. The mounted action cam went from a young entrepreneur's 2004 invention to the fuel for an entirely new market.

In 2012, Foxconn invested $200 million in the GoPro cam creator, valuing the business at $2.25 billion and making founder Nick Woodman a billionaire. The funds went toward better products and widespread marketing, with marked success. The 2012 sales numbers reached $521 million, with 2.3 million cameras sold. Now, when a vast portion of the sports-loving young adult wearable market looks at something like Glass, they think, "But, I already have a GoPro for this kind of thing." With Glass still in beta and firm release dates still unannounced, Google (GOOGL -0.90%) may lose valuable ground as GoPro continues to gobble up consumer purchasing power.

GoPro competition
What GoPro will do with this IPO remains to be seen. A lower-end camera for lighter budgets would be ideal, since the cheapest model in GoPro's line currently sits at $200, and competitors like Looxcie are working on less expensive products.

Expansion into related wearables and wearable tech is another likely option, especially since potential exists for profitable joint ventures among manufacturers working in the wearable market. One company that comes to mind is InvenSense, whose motion and sound sensors would make an ideal accompaniment to GoPro's future models.

Then, there is the issue of competitors in the wider market. GoPro does fitness well, but you cannot easily walk into the office with a cam perched on your head or shoulder. Google Glass, despite its pending release, offers more appreciable benefits, like the news it will now come with prescription lenses. Those sitting on the fence between sports options like GoPro and more mature choices like Glass may be drawn to Glass's innate usability.

The sports side of the industry is offering up competition, too. The Canadian firm Recon Instruments is busy offering heads-up displays on stylish sunglasses for skiers, bikers, and other active people, and recently got a capital infusion from Intel. The highly valued Under Armour (UAA 4.79%), which is now trading at well above $100 after an excellent start to 2014, has also made significant investment in wearable tech clothing and related apps. If the sports clothing company decides to invest in video tech, or to support one of GoPro's rivals, its size and brand power will provide a significant new barrier to GoPro's continued dominance.

Final thoughts
Joint projects with Under Armour could give GoPro's stock a boost and further increase Under Armour's winning streak. Ventures with Under Armour rivals like Columbia Sportswear or Nike are also a possibility. GoPro could turn these threats into opportunities -- if it acts quickly.

Tyler Lacoma has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ambarella and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ambarella and Google. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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