GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) CEO Nick Woodman recently discussed plans to build a cloud-based platform for the company's content. In an interview with TechCrunch, Woodman explained that he wanted GoPro's cameras to passively upload footage to a cloud service while they are charging.
That upgrade would eliminate the cumbersome task of transferring the data via an SD card to the computer, making it easier to back up, edit, and organize content. Woodman also suggested there might be a tool for cutting long videos into highlight reels, which would enable users to quickly share their content on the GoPro Channel.
By asking users to register to access to those tools, GoPro could gain valuable data on customer demographics and usage patterns. If the company can pull this off, Woodman said he believes "people will think of GoPro in a whole new way."
The business of cloud photos
GoPro wouldn't be the first company to connect cameras to the Internet. Samsung, Sony, Canon, and others already sell Wi-Fi connected "smart cameras" that can upload content to social networks and cloud drives. Those devices were designed to keep traditional cameras relevant and give professional cameras smartphone-like social connectivity.
Meanwhile, smartphone photography evolved with automatic photo upload services such as Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) photo syncing, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Photos, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime Photos, and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iCloud. Although this means users will never worry about losing their photos along with their phones again, it raises privacy concerns, since Google, Facebook, and other ad-dependent companies could mine those photos to craft targeted ads.
That data-mining aspect is certainly controversial, but the convenience is undeniable. In the early days of Facebook, users connected their cameras to PCs, uploaded those photos manually, then organized them before sharing. Today, Facebook uploads those photos automatically and users simply choose which photos to share.
What does this mean for GoPro?
GoPro's current situation, which Woodman compares to "a dark forest" for customers, strongly resembles Facebook's early days -- there are just too many steps between capturing content on GoPro's cameras and sharing it online.
Another problem is that GoPro's file sizes can be massive. GoPro's HERO4 Black can capture 4K video at 30fps, but a nine-minute video clocks in at over 4GB. Therefore, users will either need to record content at lower settings, or the camera must compress the video before uploading. The latter could be tough, since GoPro's cameras lack the processing horsepower of PCs or high-end smartphones. However, the company has already taken baby steps toward connecting its cameras wirelessly to other sources -- it recently launched a wireless add-on that lets GoPro cameras stream content directly to broadcasters.
If GoPro can address those technical issues and realize Woodman's vision for cloud-connected cameras, it could widen its competitive moat against lower-priced rivals. Automatically sending videos to the cloud and letting users share them with a single click would open the floodgates to new videos on the GoPro Channel, which is available on YouTube, Xbox Live, Roku, Virgin America flights, and other platforms.
The GoPro Channel already has over 3 million subscribers on YouTube. The channel doesn't generate meaningful revenue yet, but it serves as a great mini-social network for GoPro's users, and the videos basically advertise its cameras. To make those videos more interactive, GoPro recently introduced a ball-like mount for filming VR videos. That content could also get more interesting in 2016, when GoPro launches its long-awaited drones.
A long overdue upgrade
In my opinion, GoPro should have upgraded its cameras with cloud-based connectivity a long time ago. GoPro's product line has great brand appeal, thanks to the company's first-mover advantage and premium pricing, but they're still just a simple wearable camera.
If GoPro doesn't capitalize on the strength of its brand and build a "walled garden" ecosystem, it might lose ground to hungry rivals such as Xiaomi, Kodak, Polaroid, and HTC. The GoPro Channel was a good start, but the company definitely needs a way for users to upload and organize content in the cloud. Tethering more users to the cloud will lock in users, promote brand loyalty, and keep those GoPro knockoffs at bay.