Author(s): Peter Bryer
Even before stories surfaced yesterday about Apple's new action camera patent, the indications were clear: competition in the market for these tough cameras is getting fierce. However, not everyone can be a hero. If any market looks to ready for a shakeup, it's the market for action cameras.
Yesterday, shares of GoPro fell more than 10% based on the stories of Apple's new patent for a mountable sports camera. In the patent application, Apple is even critical of GoPro's products, indicating they aren't optimised for sports activities as they create "excessive wind resistance" and are "susceptible to damage" from vibrations. Apple's document covers underwater audio and imaging, and the company has another patent for using a smartwatch to control such cameras remotely.
Patents tend to provide only hints of a company's product development intentions, but even the slightest potential of competition from Apple can hit a nerve. The company's reputation for innovation, quality and usability is a serious competitive threat, and here we have a case of a hot brand, GoPro, theoretically being challenged by one of the most revered names in tech.
CCS Insight believed that competition in the action camera space was heating up even before this news, noting the many new products that have entered the market in the past few months including several shown at CES 2015 last week. Sony's latest Action Cam line, for example, now includes a 4K-enabled version, and less demanding users will enjoy the $99 Polaroid-branded and HD-capable Cube.
Potential high-end competition from the top and commoditisation from the bottom is a trend that also rings true in the smartphone market. However, we question the wider adoption of action cameras — the track record of similar product fields indicates this could be a flavour of the month. The scenario echoes the story of digital camcorder maker Flip and its competitors, with Flip's rise, fall and disappearance from the market demonstrative of the fragility of such new products. Devices can go from must-haves to have-beens in short order.
GoPro might not see any immediate competitive action from Apple, but the fickle nature of any consumer electronic segments in its early days means the market for action cameras is due for change. If lifelogging video products go mainstream, more established competitors can be expected to enter the arena. Who will be the next action hero?