Remember when GoPro was the innovative camera company? The fight was taken to the skies, and as we look back, it’s clear that DJI took over.
When DJI announced that they were strapping their own cameras to their drones, I was skeptical, and laughed it off. Why would you want to replace the incredible GoPro Hero 3 with some no-name camera? GoPro crammed 4K into a tiny camera when no major DSLR or phone was able to deliver that kind of resolution.
DJI was a company from Shenzhen, China that not many people knew about. Frank Wang had taken the company from basic drone supplies to building pre-built packages. It was rather easy to fall into looking like a cheaper, plastic drone when the Phantom was released in 2013. Especially compared the expensive DIY drones flooding the market then. As symbiosis would have it though, sticking a GoPro on your Phantom drone was a killer way to get amazing shots on a budget. In fact, it still is.
What changed that pushed DJI so much further? They’ve leaped from pre-built GoPro flying machines to a major contender on the international market. The difference is that DJI got serious, and removed themselves from GoPro. The truth is, if GoPro had released their drone in 2012, DJI would have suffered badly. In fact even when GoPro announced their drone, the speculation was that GoPro could compete with DJI. Now though? Well GoPro's video quality is hardly unique anymore, given that DJI is using the same chips in some of their own products.
GoPro's incredible videos drove sales, but notice the drone footage?
While GoPro was reaching the peak of their available technology, DJI was making their mark as serious players. They released the Ronin and Ronin-M in response to MōVI, brought 4K to their Phantom drones, and brought that tech to the OSMO series. DJI had the technology, but gained the respect later. Now, they have a 70 percent or so chunk of the drone market, and their last valuation in 2015 sets them as a 10 billion-dollar company (GoPro hit the stock market at $2.95 billion). In fact, Wang might be bringing the company to the stock market in the coming year, which could bring even more investment in the door. This is largely in part to their potential in industrial, agricultural, and military markets showing promise.
Compare this to GoPro, who’s seen a 90 percent drop from their peak stock price in 2014. Sure, that spike was due to a successful IPO, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’re not getting the investment needed to innovate. In fact, they’re laying off staff to make up for debt and recalls.
It's Down to Choices
GoPro’s first digital camera was released in 2006. That’s a year before Apple released the iPhone, and many years before smartphone photography became decent enough to compete with dedicated cameras. Now though? It’s hard to justify getting a dedicated camera for a vacation video when I have a smartphone at the ready. In fact, even if you had the need for a camera, a DSLR or mirrorless might be the better choice over a GoPro.
So why would you buy a product from DJI? Well, the same reason you’re not buying a GoPro to replace your phone. The GoPro isn't offering anything massively different or cool over the waterproof iPhone 7. The OSMO though? Well that has its own built-in gimbal. The Mavic drone? Well it’s a drone, which your phone certainly can't compete with.
As such, the regular consumer ought to see value in what DJI’s driving towards. They built reliable products and have gained a reputation like I mentioned already, but they’re also making funky and out-there cameras.
Has DJI Killed GoPro?
I think it’s clear that, while the pair are both technically in separate markets, they both reach the same set of consumers. Right now, apples to apples, it looks like DJI has outpaced GoPro.
DJI also has an amazing grip on multiple markets. Sure, they’re the drone people, but they’re also reaching professional settings in a host of ways. It's funny to think that DJI, founded in 2006, has been able to buy out Hasselblad. It’s a bizarre juxtaposition of plastic drones and, well, Hasselblad. So we know that even if drones are just a fad, DJI could possibly survive. It’s also worth noting that Canon has a market cap of about $40 billion, Nikon is just $6.4 billion. If DJI do come to the public stock market, we could see them fit squarely between the two.
My main point is that DJI isn't going anywhere. GoPro? Well let's hope that they’re able to innovate and bring new offers to the table, even if it's not directed at regular consumers. I, for one, will sorely miss their amazing marketing.