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The Only Possible Reason Why Apple, Inc. Would Remotely Consider Maybe Buying GoPro (But Probably Won't Anyway)

By Evan Niu, CFA – Dec 11, 2015 at 4:00PM

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Apple bought Beats in part for its strong brand, but does that mean it would be interested in GoPro for the same reason?

Anyone that's followed me for any reasonable amount of time probably knows that shooting down Apple (AAPL 2.44%) acquisition rumors is one of my favorite pastimes. Apple's massive net cash position of $150 billion inevitably invites non-stop acquisition speculation, so these ideas really do come up often enough for it to become a legitimate hobby.

On Thursday, FBR Capital analyst Daniel Ives suggested that Apple should acquire struggling action camera maker GoPro (GPRO -11.92%). Ives suggests that GoPro would be a natural fit within Apple's current product portfolio of devices. And GoPro's forthcoming entry into drones seemingly makes sense for Apple as well, according to Ives. GoPro shares naturally jumped 11% following the report.

Normally, I'd immediately brush this notion off like many others in the past, since GoPro doesn't fit the historical profile of an Apple acquisition target. The company's market cap is around $2.6 billion right now, and it doesn't possess any particularly innovative technology that Apple could potentially integrate into future products, and it has meaningful revenue streams of its own (Apple sometimes shutters acquired businesses after buying them since it just wants the talent or technology).

But there's one curve ball giving me pause this time around: Beats.

Apple just set a new precedent: buying a brand
I don't believe that GoPro has particularly innovative technology that is proprietary to the company itself. GoPro became popular thanks to its rugged designs and professional-quality image processing technology (which comes from chip supplier Ambarella, not GoPro), and quickly became the dominant action camera brand for extreme sports enthusiasts and adventurers.

That has allowed GoPro to build something else entirely: a lifestyle brand. GoPro's rise wasn't attributable to particularly innovative camera technology, but rather the brand association and the subsequent breathtaking videos that tend to go viral (further reinforcing the brand).

It's also worth pointing out that Apple has exhibited some semblance of interest in the action camera market. The Mac maker was granted dozens of patents in January of this year, detailing a wearable action camera that can be mounted exactly like GoPro's offerings. That storyline partially set the negative tone for GoPro this year, as shares plunged on the competitive fears of Apple stepping in to challenge GoPro. But Apple patents stuff constantly and hardly ever pursues many of the ideas that it patents.

A few years ago, I would have never thought that Apple would acquire a smaller company for its brand, since Apple already has the most valuable brand in the world. But then it bought Beats last year for $3 billion, its largest acquisition ever. There are three primary reasons why Apple made such a large and uncharacteristic acquisition: human curation technology and talent, Jimmy Iovine, and Beats' brand strength.

The fact that Apple bought a brand, something that would have been unthinkable two years ago, suggests that there is a tiny sliver of a possibility that Apple would acquire GoPro for its strong lifestyle brand.

Time to wake up
Yet, the reality still remains that beyond GoPro's brand, there's little else that Apple could potentially want from GoPro. Apple didn't just buy a brand in Beats, it also bought a brand in Beats. With Beats, Apple got some serious music industry talent with deep connections and technology that it would use to build Apple Music.

What does GoPro have? A YouTube channel with 3.5 million subscribers and a quickly decelerating action camera business built primarily around brand strength. Apple already makes its own professional video-editing software too, so there's little reason for it to be interested in GoPro's software.

The action camera market is stalling right now, which is largely why GoPro is down 70% year to date. Besides, Apple isn't really interested in stand-alone products these days. It instead focuses on smart devices that accomplish a wide variety of tasks.

And now we've come full circle. No, Apple won't buy GoPro.

Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ambarella, Apple, and GoPro. 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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