GoPro's CEO gambles on VR and smart video software

2016 was a brutal year for GoPro. 

Not only was the company late to the market with the GoPro Karma drone, it was forced to recall the drone after users found it falling suddenly from the sky. GoPro’s stock continued to plummet throughout 2016 due to the embarrassing recall and tepid sales of its core action cameras, the GoPro Hero5 Session and GoPro Hero5 Black

While you might be ready to write off GoPro, you shouldn’t. Last week, GoPro invited journalists, brand advocates and influencers to the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado to see the new GoPro Fusion camera as well as to discuss the future of the company. What we saw was a reinvigorated company with a sense of purpose and a solid vision of the future. 

“It was brutal,” GoPro CEO Nick Woodman said starkly in regards to the GoPro Karma launch. “It was the classic case of the $0.10 bushing blowing out at the last lap of the race.” 

But Woodman isn’t deterred by the company’s mistake. “We went from our lowest lows to feeling like ‘we got this,’” said Woodman in reference to the company’s new direction and vision. 

So what is the future for GoPro? According to Woodman, spherical video capture and the software that powers it. While GoPro isn’t the first company to release a spherical video camera with the likes of Samsung and LG beating it to market, it will differentiate the Fusion through software. 

“We want your GoPro to be an extension of your smartphone,” expounded Woodman in reference to the upcoming Quik Stories feature that will come as an updated to the current GoPro Quik mobile app. This update will allow your GoPro Hero5 camera to constantly sync video clips to your phone and edit them automatically. 

The new Quik app lets you customize the video edits if you’re not happy with the company’s algorithm and can be as simple or complex as you want. We spent a couple of days with a beta version of the Quik app and were surprised at how stable and intuitive the app was for pre-release software. 

However, video clips took a long time to transfer and required the camera to be turned on, draining the already small battery of the Hero5. 

The updated Quik app lets users choose an editing style and be done with it, but power users will appreciate the ability to change music, cut clips, insert more media like photos, speed up or slowdown footage and much more. 

We created a half dozen Quik Stories over the past few days and came away impressed at just how good the automated edits turned out. In fact, the edits were miles ahead of Google Photos and Windows Story Remix.

DJI will also be releasing automated video software called Quickshots but we haven’t seen how good its editing abilities are. You can download the current Quik app for Android and iOS to try for yourself, though, keep in mind it won't be as fully featured as the Quik beta build we used. 

Finding the right balance of mainstream and prosumer has always been a challenge for GoPro. If the company goes too mainstream, it risks alienating the professionals that make the GoPro brand so strong. But without chasing more mainstream customers, the company won’t grow. 

“I think OverCapture will help the VR market,” said Woodman in reference to the GoPro Fusion’s ability to capture a 5.2k image from every angle. 

With so much video data, video editors will be able to punch into a 1080p shot from the raw spherical video. This means video editors can reframe and recompose their videos in post production, creating a seamless and fluid viewing experience on flat screens like our phones and TVs. 

“The problem with VR video is that you’re not going to wait to get home to get your HMD (head mounted display),” Woodman continued. “You’re going to watch it flat and you’re most likely not going to rewatch it with an HMD.”

By offering an OverCapture edit, Woodman believes users will be more intrigued by what the VR cut looks like and will be more likely to grab their Samsung Gear VR or Google DayDream View to watch the video again. 

While the OverCapture video edits look amazing, it will take talent to create those seamless edits. “We’re releasing Fusion as a prosumer professional experience that will then evolve into a consumer experience,” said Woodman. 

However, he sees Quik evolving into the one piece of software that everything GoPro interfaces with. With enough time, we’ll likely see the software automatically create OverCapture edits of GoPro Fusion video for us. 

Taking a look at GoPro’s entire line of products and you can see why Woodman feels like the company is in a good position. The company still has some of the best action cameras on the market, an excellent gimbal with the GoPro Grip, a drone and now a spherical camera. But it's GoPro’s software that ties all of its products together, making it easy to shoot and share video instead of capturing a bunch of clips users don’t know what to do with. 

However, GoPro faces increasing competition from other action cameras and especially drones from DJI and needs the GoPro Fusion and an inevitable GoPro Hero6 cameras to be a hit. From our short time with the Fusion, we came away impressed with the video quality and design. If GoPro can deliver on its software promises, we’re confident Fusion will be a hit.

Lewis Leong
Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.