Not that long ago, the end of 2016 looked as though it would be a defining point for consumer drones, the time for them to truly go mainstream. In September, GoPro made its highly anticipated move into the drone space with the launch of the Karma. Industry leader DJI released the Mavic Pro a matter of days later. Suddenly we were looking at two drones capable of taking what is essentially a niche hobby into uncharted territory. Both offer uncomplicated flight, 4K video recording at competitive prices and much more besides. But as these two tech industry giants have fought to bring their new drones to market in time for the festive season, mistakes have been made. Corners might even have been cut; we’re not exactly sure what’s been going on. Either way, both DJI and GoPro enter December – probably the month in which they expected to make the most sales – with their reputations damaged and customers around the world feeling let down. This wasn’t how things were supposed to be: GoPro Vs DJI – ending 2016 with a whimper?
So what does this rocky end to 2016 mean for the consumer drone industry going forwards, and what’s the outlook for DJI and GoPro as we near 2017?
GoPro Vs DJI: delays undermine consumer confidence
It’s nothing new in the drone industry for manufacturers to have delays and for new drones to hit the market a little later than originally planned. Plenty of drones have been in the pipeline for months, missing release date after release date. These are complicated little gadgets we’re dealing with after all. But situations can quickly escalate when customers begin to feel like they are being taken for granted or misled. This is exactly what has happened with pre-orders of DJI’s new Mavic Pro.
After missing the original shipping date of October 15th, DJI spent the following weeks fanning flames of its own making with poor communication and a blatant lack of transparency. At first it was a minor delay due to the huge demand for the Mavic Pro around the world. Then it was suggested, a week later when the Mavic Pro had begun to ship, that only a handful were released to keep the market happy, disguising whatever was really going on behind the scenes. Then we found out that there was actually a problem with a part during production responsible for the delays, and that providing you had ordered your Mavic Pro before November 3rd, you’ll receive it sometime between 22nd and the 29th of December. It’s all been a bit of a mess. While we don’t doubt the quality of the Mavic Pro and applaud DJI for making sure every drone is perfect before being shipped, thousands of customers paid up front and deserved to be treated better.
In the long run, we don’t anticipate this being particularly damaging to DJI, but customers may think twice about pre-ordering in future and instead wait until products are out on the shelves. In fact, consumer faith in DJI is likely to be tested once more much sooner than you might think. Tomorrow the company is widely expected to launch the Inspire 2, the follow up to arguably the most popular prosumer drone on the market. We’ll have more on that as it develops, but as usual we’re expecting DJI’s quality and features to speak for themselves.
GoPro Vs DJI: Karma recall is hugely damaging
While DJI is slowly but surely getting its Mavic Pro out to customers and can rely on the fresh hype of the expected Inspire 2, GoPro has had no such luck. Last week we reported that the new Karma drone, which has only been on shelves for a matter of days, has been recalled by GoPro. The company has requested that over 2,500 models be sent back immediately, with customers entitled to a full refund.
The recall came after reports circulated that many GoPro Karma pilots (like in the video above) were experiencing sudden losses of power, and watching helplessly as their drone were falling out of the sky.
Given that the announcement came days after a profit warning sent GoPro shares tumbling, it looks like the year is ending pretty badly for the action camera company. We still don’t know how quickly the GoPro Karma will be back on the shelves, but more worrying for CEO Nick Woodman will be the long lasting damage that this launch has on Karma sales in the long term. At least DJI was able to slow down production as problems were detected, keeping embarrassment to a minimum. Now GoPro will have to face customers with its reputation in pieces. DJI had credit in the bank after a string of successful drones. As a first entry into a new market, GoPro will do well to establish any kind of foothold from here on in.
GoPro Vs DJI – Isn’t competition supposed to breed success?
Looking through the ups and downs of what was supposed to be a major few months in the consumer drone industry, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed. Ideally, at this point in time pilots around the world should be comparing the Mavic Pro to the GoPro Karma and the two manufacturers should be fighting for festive season sales on merit. Instead, both have taken significant damage to their reputations since launching the two most exciting drones the consumer market has seen up until now. But how much is this down to a sense that there is now more competition than ever in the drone industry? To what extent have these two drones been rushed through the final stages of production to beat each other to market? We’ll probably never know the answers to those questions. But it’s fair to speculate that both GoPro and DJI will have taken into account the actions of the other when plotting out product timelines.
When we spoke to DJI’s Adam Lisberg last month he was quick to deny that the timing of the Mavic Pro announcement was based on the actions of competitors. “In fact,” he said, “it was based on our own aggressive estimates of when it would be ready. We set our own aggressive timetables for new product introductions because we intend to stay as the market leader in innovation, not because we’re trying to respond to anyone else.”
How much of that we believe is open to debate, especially with DJI’s recent habit of changing stories as and when it suits. We haven’t spoken to anyone from GoPro, but we can only imagine that, given the Karma was already delayed from the summer, the company had been racing to be ready for the festive season – potentially to the detriment of the product itself if recent news is anything to go by.
Either way, there’s no doubt that as the industry hurtles forward and new drones get smaller, faster and even more capable, the fight to be top of the pile is going to get even more competitive. Let’s hope that the customers aren’t the ones to suffer if things go wrong again.