Earlier this week, shares of GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) took a mighty tumble on fears that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) would jump into the market for action cameras. Generally speaking, most incumbents in adjacent markets would rather not compete with Apple if given a choice.
The source of the speculation was a patent that was awarded to Apple, describing a remote-controlled digital camera that could potentially be worn. That generic description was just a little bit too close for comfort to GoPro's products, sending shares down 12% on Tuesday.
Here's why GoPro shouldn't be afraid of Apple. In fact, the reason why it shouldn't fear the Mac maker is the same reason why investors should approach GoPro with caution.
Action cameras aren't mainstream
Beyond the fact that Apple applies for countless patents and never brings the related products to market, the fact of the matter is that action cameras simply aren't mainstream devices at this point.
Apple prefers to target mainstream consumer markets with broad appeal in order to maximize its potential opportunities if it chooses to enter. Sure, Apple sometimes likes to make markets mainstream by creating products that are more accessible than current offerings (like with the smartphone market circa 2007, or what it hopes Apple Watch will do with smartwatches), but it's highly debatable whether or not action cameras have this potential.
Some believe that GoPro is already well on its way to becoming mainstream, like Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. While others doubt that spending hundreds of dollars for a GoPro makes sense for the average consumer, such as Morgan Stanley analysts James Faucette, Yuuji Anderson, and Meta Marshall. That trio spent 8 hours putting together a 2-minute video, presumably of them hard at work on a discounted cash flow model. They found the editing and creation process difficult, and the end result was "largely unwatchable."
The point here is that professional extreme-sports athletes make many of the GoPro videos that go viral. An average athlete is unlikely able to capture the breathtaking footage that we often associate with GoPro. Even if an average consumer buys one, they probably won't upgrade their devices once they realize they can't do this.
None of this is to say that GoPro can't grow its business from here, since even adoption within enthusiasts is tepid. Additionally, GoPro is pursuing other opportunities like broadcasting livestreams. Rather, GoPro's target market is too small for Apple to focus on. One of Apple's greatest strengths is focus and depth. Here's a quote from Steve Jobs, one that Tim Cook frequently echoes:
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.
It could very well be a great idea financially for Apple to make a remote-controlled action camera, but that doesn't mean it will.
Apple has been moving away from stand-alone products for years
The last major stand-alone product that Apple made was the iPod. That was in 2001. Since then, Apple and other mobile device makers have transitioned toward making multi-function devices, aggressively cannibalizing sales of stand-alone devices in the process. That includes the iPod, as well as point-and-shoot cameras, e-readers, and more.
It doesn't stand to reason that Apple would be interested in entering the market for a stand-alone product like action cameras, particularly as it focuses on the nascent smartwatch market right now. Tim Cook has teased that Apple is indeed working on products that haven't even leaked yet, but I highly doubt that a wearable action camera is one of them.
The most likely explanation
Keep in mind that Apple initially filed for this patent way back in 2012, and the technical details suggest an implementation that's more applicable to a smartphone or smartwatch. That makes much more sense than a new product.
Apple does indeed care a lot about camera technology and performance, but almost exclusively limited to the context of its existing devices. Every year, the Mac maker highlights improvements in the iPhone's camera performance, accelerating the decline of point-and-shoot cameras. In that case, it makes perfect sense why Apple continues to research and develop camera technology.
Don't worry, GoPro. Apple's not coming after you.