GoPro (GPRO 0.54%) recently unveiled the Omni, a six-camera rig for filming interactive spherical videos that can be explored through a smartphone's movements, a user's finger swipes, or a virtual reality headset. The device is the smaller sibling of the 16-camera Odyssey rig, which hasn't been launched despite being announced nearly a year ago. Let's take a look at four key things investors should know about the Omni, and how they might impact GoPro's future.
1. It's expensive
GoPro hasn't announced the official price of the Omni yet, but six Hero 4 Black cameras would cost $3,000, and the rig is expected to cost at least $500. But a $3,500 price tag isn't bad compared to the Odyssey's $15,000 price tag or Nokia's $60,000 Ozo. Videostitch's Orah 4i, which uses four fisheye lenses, is notably smaller but costs $3,600.
However, the Omni will still be much pricier than stand-alone spherical cameras like Ricoh's Theta S and JK Imaging's Kodak PixPro SP360-4K, which respectively cost $350 and $500. The Kickstarter-funded Bublcam, which is about the size of a tennis ball, costs $800. Nikon's KeyMission 360 and Samsung's Gear 360 will also arrive later this year, and both devices are expected to be cheaper than GoPro's rig-based solutions.
These smaller and cheaper devices could be more appealing to mainstream users than GoPro's multi-camera rigs. Earlier this year at CES, GoPro CEO Nick Woodman announced that his company planned to launch a "more casual" 360-degree camera, but it's still unclear when that device will arrive.
2. It's a way to sell more cameras
GoPro is probably postponing its plans to launch a single spherical camera because the Odyssey and Omni can help it sell more top-tier cameras at once. Last year, GoPro focused on launching low-end to mid-range cameras to expand its user base, but it didn't launch any new flagship devices. Its only new premium device, the Hero 4 Session, sold so poorly that its price was cut in half to $200 during the holidays.
This month, GoPro discontinued three of its cheaper devices to streamline its portfolio with just three products -- the $200 Session, $400 Silver, and the $500 Black. GoPro probably won't launch any new action cameras until the Hero 5 devices arrive in the second half of the year, so it must keep selling those three aging cameras to generate revenue and reduce its existing inventory. But since many of GoPro's core users already own one of those cameras and mainstream users aren't biting, the company believes that unloading six to 16 of its Black cameras at a time to VR video makers might help it tread water.
3. But it won't move the needle
The problem with GoPro's strategy is that it's a short-sighted one that favors selling a few more cameras at the expense of falling behind the technological curve. While the rest of the market has already shifted toward single-camera solutions, GoPro prefers to recycle the clunky rig technology -- which was invented by hobbyists and third-party manufacturers -- instead of developing its own game-changing device.
That's a shame, because if GoPro had spent more money on R&D and acquisitions instead of wasteful buybacks, it could probably have launched a stand-alone 360-degree camera by now. But for now, it's unclear how the Omni can compete against smaller, cheaper, and evolving devices like the Theta and PixPro SP360. It's also doubtful that GoPro will sell enough VR rigs to generate fresh camera sales.
4. Partnerships won't save GoPro
Last year, GoPro partnered with Alphabet's (GOOG -0.27%) (GOOGL -0.21%) Google to create Jump, a platform for VR video. Google and GoPro co-designed the Odyssey, which stitches the video together and delivers it to YouTube as 360-degree videos. The Omni was fully designed by GoPro, but it's also expected to rely on its partnership with Google to deliver VR videos to YouTube.
That partnership has fueled rumors that Google might buy GoPro to expand its presence in the VR market, but that's highly unlikely, since Google can sign similar Jump agreements with any camera maker that delivers high-quality VR videos to YouTube. When that happens, GoPro's pricey rigs could fall out of favor and be cut out of the loop.
What's next for GoPro?
GoPro investors don't have many catalysts to look forward to this year. The Omni is too pricey relative to its peers to gain any mainstream traction. The Karma drone, which is due to arrive within the next two months, faces tough competition from market leader DJI Innovations. By the time the Hero 5 cameras arrive near the end of the year, the mainstream market could be saturated with cheap VR and flying cameras.
That's why GoPro's sales are expected to fall 15% this year. To reverse that decline, GoPro must innovate again instead of relying on copycat ideas like drones or using clumsy rigs like the Omni to juice camera sales. Unfortunately, that reversal probably won't happen without some big changes at the top.