Shares of GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) have plunged over 20% since October 7, following reports that mounting the action camera on a helmet possibly caused skier Michael Schumacher's brain injuries after his skiing accident last year. Unfortunately, the PR fallout from that report isn't GoPro's only problem.
In addition to rising competition from cheaper action cameras with similar specs, GoPro faces a new group of 360-degree cameras that could disrupt the company's business of wide-angle ones. Kodak (NYSE: KODK), VSN Mobil, and VOXX International (NASDAQ:VOXX) all recently unveiled 360-degree cameras that are waterproof and compatible with GoPro's mounts.
Kodak's Pixpro SP360 will be the first of these products to arrive in late October. The camera can shoot in four modes -- front, 360-degree panorama, "round" (two simultaneous 180-degree videos), and "dome" (a fisheye 360-degree view). It is equipped with a 16-megapixel camera, which can record 160 minutes of 1080p video at 30 fps or 350 still shots -- on a single charge. The SP360, which comes with Explorer and Aqua Packs (mounts for land or water), will cost $349.
VSN Mobil's V.360 -- which will arrive in mid-November -- has similar specs, although the price hasn't been announced yet. In early 2015, VOXX International will launch the 360Fly, another comparable device that hasn't been priced yet.
The idea of capturing the action from all 360-degrees is interesting, but will these new devices disrupt GoPro's dominant market share in action cameras, or will they fade away without carving out a niche?
Should GoPro worry about 360-degree cameras?
GoPro controlled nearly half of the action camera market last year, according to IDC, and about 30% of the overall video camera market.
The rest of the market is fragmented among wide-angle imitators like Polaroid's Cube and XS100i, Monoprice's MHD Action Camera, SpyTec's SJ-1000, and HTC's new RE Camera. These competitors all use the same strategy -- to introduce new action cameras with comparable specs to GoPro's devices (which cost between $200 and $500) for only $100 to $200. In response to these threats, GoPro recently launched the $129 HERO, an entry-level device that mostly matches those competitors' specs.
360-degree cameras, on the other hand, were primarily used for surveillance purposes in the past. Based on that market, IHS forecasts that sales of 180/360-degree panoramic cameras would rise 60% year over year in 2014. However, actual consumer demand for these products is unknown.
The different modes on 360-degree cameras could be harder to set up than GoPro's "set it and forget it" cameras. Sharing 360-degree shots across Facebook and YouTube could also be more complicated than GoPro's wide-angle videos, which are automatically framed in TV and computer-friendly 4:3 and 16:9 formats. Citing those technical hurdles, Saturna Capital analyst Paul Meeks recently told CNBC that 360-degree cameras were too "niche" to disrupt GoPro's core market.
Why GoPro shouldn't worry about 360-degree cameras
For now, 360-degree cameras simply aren't required for most situations, especially when the video is highly distorted in "round" and "dome" views. Kodak's SP360 website demonstrates the camera being used in an impressive manner while skydiving and flying, but it's hard to see the camera being used in a practical manner while riding a bike.
Beyond their lenses, 360-degree cameras are technically underwhelming compared to GoPro's devices. The GoPro HERO4 Silver, for example, captures 1080p video at 60 fps -- twice the framerate of Kodak's SP360 -- for just $50 more. Hardcore action camera users, which 360-degree cameras are likely targeting, would also likely prefer the $500 GoPro HERO4 Black Edition, which can capture 4K video at 30 fps, 2.7K video at 50 fps, and 1080p video at a whopping 120 fps.
Even if 360-degree cameras start to gain ground, it would be easy for GoPro to simply launch a competing device, since the devices are based on fairly dated technologies.
The Foolish takeaway
In conclusion, GoPro's greatest strength is that it is defining market trends, rather than following them.
GoPro is working hard on making its brand synonymous with wide-angle cameras with devices at all price tiers and brand-building video channels. In my opinion, the company doesn't need to respond to 360-degree cameras yet -- it should just wait and see what happens, then simply launch a GoPro 360 in response if Kodak, VSN Mobil, and VOXX International's devices actually find an audience.