During the craziness of election week, GoPro (GPRO) quietly announced some bad news: 2,500 Karma drones had to be recalled. It was the second negative announcement coming out of wearable camera maker: a few days before GoPro reported declining sales and immense underperformance. Sales were down 40% compared to the same time in 2015.
The reason, when you think about it, isn’t really surprising. Even when you look past the high-quality knockoffs, the lack of meaningful upgrades (where do we go from 4K, and can you even tell the difference?) GoPro is in trouble. Action cams that record cool stuff, have a fatal flaw: They’re built on a foundation of sand—the assumption that you can do cool things and that those cool things will look great on video.
On its face, the GoPro Karma drone is a new product that could potentially get GoPro customers to dip back into their wallets. But even without the recall, the product is still built on a the same troubling premise of its action cams.
This isn’t just unique to GoPro, it’s something inherent in the entire drone industry. Hot and new as it is, like action cams, the camera drone industry may encounter a harsh reality when the use cases end up being limited. For the people on the beach or in the park, controlling a humming UFO above them, the novelty of flying vicariously through a robot and looking through its eyes might get old quickly.
This isn’t to dismiss drones at all—it appears that working drones are likely play a significant role in the future of deliveries, commerce, drone racing, and other applications that haven’t even been thought up yet. But today’s drones that don’t perform a service more than filming what’s below them, something that the public may not get excited about in the long term.
However, even if these drones exhaust their metaphorical batteries and come crashing back down to earth, exposed as remnants of a fad, it’s possible they’ll have performed an essential function to their industry: normalizing their existence and paving the way for whatever crazy flying things fly into our lives next.