GoPro today held an event at which it announced two new cameras: the latest in its core Hero line, the Hero6, at $499; and a VR camera called the Fusion, which will sell for $699. The Fusion had been pre-announced back in April ahead of a pilot program which has been running over the last few months, but the suggestion at the time was that this was a camera for professionals, implying a price point in the thousands of dollars. However, what we’ve actually ended up with is something which – if not exactly consumer-grade – is at least within reach for serious hobbyists. The concept is very clever, combining video from two overlapping lenses to create 360° video in a unique way, which can eliminate the pole holding the camera from the shot and make it appear as if it’s floating in front of the subject. But it’s also designed to allow creators to edit videos after the effect, choosing the angle they want from the 5.2k video the camera outputs to create more conventional videos. The Hero6, meanwhile, is a more conventional device, with some predictable upgrades from earlier models, and it’s notable that it maxes out at exactly the same resolutions as the iPhone 8 – 1080p at up to 240 frames per second, and 4K and 60 frames per second – though obviously with a larger camera, sensor, and so on. As a reminder, GoPro has recently returned to growth at a rather lower scale than at its peak, and is losing money as a result, so devices that can provide new revenue streams are critical to its future. The Fusion looks like one of the more unique products it’s launched in recent memory, but at the $699 price it’s not likely to sell in huge numbers, while the Hero6 will be a nice upgrade for some existing owners but not likely by itself to pull new people into the GoPro ecosystem, something the company has anyway been de-emphasizing as a goal.
The Financial Times reports that Amazon is working on two new hardware categories: Alexa voice assistant-enabled glasses, and home security cameras which would integrate with Alexa hardware in various ways. The home security camera seems by far the less surprising of the two, given that it’s one of the bigger existing smart home market segments and a logical extension of what Amazon is doing with its Echo line (including the Echo Look, which already incorporates a camera). But it’s the voice-enabled glasses that are both surprising and somewhat baffling as a concept, especially because there’s no ostensible connection between glasses – a primarily vision-oriented product – and Alexa, a product centered on the ears. It sounds like the glasses are a way to hide bone-conduction audio in a less nerdy way than a bluetooth headset would, but for those who don’t normally wear glasses, aren’t they at least as nerdy, not to mention conspicuous? There’s arguably some logic to using bone conduction as a technology because it doesn’t block the ear in the same way as earbuds and headphones, but I’m really not convinced that glasses are the best way to deliver that experience. It’s also worth noting by way of context that Amazon has arguably never had a successful personal consumer device. Its one earlier attempt – the Fire Phone – was a huge failure, and all of its other devices are arguably less personal and more shared devices, often with fairly uninspiring industrial design which makes me skeptical that Amazon knows how to create appealing personal products. Given that the FT says both of these products could launch by the end of the year, I guess we’ll see the details soon enough, but I’m enormously skeptical on the glasses though the cameras seem like they’ll sell well, albeit now with stronger competition from Nest.
via Financial Times
Nest Launches Smarter Security Camera for Inside Homes (May 31, 2017)
GoPro beat its revenue guidance for Q1 and grew year on year for the second straight quarter, though it’s still a shadow of its former self, with revenues less than two thirds of what they were two years ago in the quarter, and even less than the equivalent quarter three years ago. Meanwhile, it still hasn’t reduced costs nearly enough to get back to profitability, as its cost of sales was nearly 70% of revenue and its operating expenses accounted for about the same amount, leaving it with a -40% operating margin. That’s actually a slight improvement on a couple of quarters last year, but was much worse than Q4, The fundamental challenge facing GoPro is still that it’s essentially a one-trick pony in a market that has a fairly low ceiling at a time when smartphones and other product categories are beginning to be more meaningful competitors. It’s expanded into drones, but that’s an even more niche category than action cameras, and all its efforts at diversifying into content have failed. It may be able to bring costs down enough over the course of the year to get back to profitability but a return to sustained high growth still seems like a distant prospect.
Amazon has announced a new device in its Echo family called the Echo Look, which assumes a different form factor, adding a still and video camera to features of the standard device for $20 more. For now, the focus is fashion advice: the camera can take full-length photos or videos of the user, acting like a full-length mirror at a basic level but also offering fashion advice through machine learning tools trained by fashion experts. I say for now, because once you have a camera in an Echo device it could be used for many other things too – indeed, when reports and pictures of this device first surfaced people assumed it was a security camera, and there’s really no reason why it couldn’t be. And several of these devices together could be very useful for motion sensing and other tasks as part of a smart home system over time too. But Amazon’s also smart to start specializing the Echo a little, with a particular focus on women, as I would guess a majority of sales of Echo devices to date have gone to men. I’d bet we’ll see other more specialized devices in time, but also other uses for this camera as it gets software updates. And this also starts to get at a real business model for Echo, which so far hasn’t done much to boost e-commerce sales but could now drive clothing revenue through sales of both third party apparel and Amazon’s own growing line. And what Amazon learns from the Look and its associated app can be fed back into the core Amazon.com clothes shopping experience too, improving recommendations in the process. But of course all this comes with downsides: not only do you have a device in your home that’s always listening, but you now have a device with a camera, which could feasibly be hacked remotely to take pictures or video of you. And Amazon will store the images it captures indefinitely, creating a further possible source of problems down the line.
via The Verge
GoPro Pre-Announces New 360° Camera for Commercial Use (Apr 20, 2017)
Samsung Updates Gear VR and Gear 360 Camera (Mar 29, 2017)
Two other smaller announcements from Samsung today on top of its phone and smart home announcements concern its VR and 360 degree camera accessories, both of which got an update today. The Gear VR is easily the VR headset with the biggest base today, thanks largely to its aggressive pricing and bundling by Samsung in combination with its smartphones. That doesn’t mean it’s the best experience out there, and in fact it’s been a somewhat frustrating one because the controller was an awkward trackpad on the side of the headset. But the new version solves that with what looks like a really good separate hand-held controller, along with other improvements. This is the same approach as the Google Daydream View takes, and it works very well in that device, so this should make the Gear VR better too. The Gear 360 debuted last year, but was pretty limited, being designed more for stationary use at, say, a party rather than as an action camera for use on the go. The new version has 4K video and a new design better suited for on-the-go use. As with the other announcements, we’ll have to wait until reviews come out to know whether they’ll deliver on the promise (and I’ll be testing the Gear 360 I picked up at the event today shortly), but on paper these should be decent upgrades on their predecessors.
It’s almost certainly not a coincidence that not one but two rumors about Snap working on additional hardware have sprouted the week of its IPO, both apparently well sourced yet conveniently vague on whether a product will actually ever be launched. This is good hype fodder for an IPO with some serious question marks over it, and yet non-specific enough that the company can afford never to release either of these two products (the Times reports a drone, while TechCrunch discusses a 360 degree camera). None of this is to say that Snap – which now calls itself a camera company and has one piece of camera hardware already in Spectacles – won’t release more camera hardware in future. In fact, I’d say it seems very likely. But when it happens, we’ll see whether that’s actually a bet that ends up moving the needle or just ends up being a novelty as Spectacles seem to have been. I’m still not convinced that Snap will ever be able to make a serious business out of hardware, its marketing genius notwithstanding.
The Sky Is Falling For GoPro – Forbes (Feb 2, 2017)
The headline here is a pun a bit overblown, but only a bit. GoPro’s Karma drone literally fell out of the skies when it was first launched, and had to be recalled, finally going on sale again this week. This piece digs into the challenges GoPro faced in moving into a totally new hardware category, provides some broader context about how hard the drone market has been for others (see also Parrot), and GoPro’s broader challenges. GoPro was one of three companies I highlighted in a piece just over a year ago about the danger of being a one-trick pony in tech, along with Fitbit and Dropbox. Fitbit and GoPro have indeed been through the ringer since then, to differing degrees, with Fitbit having a really tough Q4, and GoPro struggling ever since its disastrous Session launch. Hardware is hard, and it’s even tougher when you’re in a category with a fairly low ceiling and that’s all you do. GoPro and Fitbit have both discovered that the hard way since I wrote that piece (though Dropbox is actually doing OK, partly by diversifying more effectively than either Fitbit or GoPro have).
Robert Scoble is an odd source – not strictly a reporter, and one with a very mixed track record when it comes to this kind of thing. So take it with a pinch of salt, but this is an interesting report given that Apple does seem to be very interested in AR. The timing is interesting here too – Scoble says the glasses might launch this year, which would be a big new product for Apple when it could really use one to reassure the faithful.
Facebook’s new camera app (currently in testing) clones several Snapchat features, including filters/lenses, and ephemeral messages. The filter/lens technology is built on the acquisition of MSQRD.
via The Verge