What a difference a week makes.
GoPro CEO Nick Woodman boisterously proclaimed the Karma was the only drone that folded up and fit into a backpack. Beyond that, the Karma is more than just a drone, he said. It’s a life-transforming experience, apparently.
With all the camera equipment that’s included, the Karma is an impressive package with an even more attractive $800 price tag. That’s without a GoPro camera, but even the $1,000 bundle with a Hero 5 Session is a good value, and it’s half the price of DJI’s $2,000 Phantom 4.
GoPro should be worried. Really worried.
But that was last week. On Monday, DJI announced its new Mavic Pro, a foldable drone that’s even smaller than the Karma and fits in your hand (sorta). It’ll fit in your backpack fine with tons of room to spare or in a medium- to large-sized purse.
DJI’s positioning the Mavic Pro as having almost all the features of its Phantom 4, but in a collapsible design.
GoPro should be worried. Really worried.
I haven’t seen the Mavic Pro in person, but I’ve seen enough hands-on photos and videos to get a sense of its dimensions and what it’s capable of doing.
DigitalRev’s hands on is a good place to start:
As learned from the video, the Mavic Pro is slightly slower than the Phantom 4 and the 4K image quality isn’t quite as sharp due to its smaller image sensor, but the differences are negligible unless you’re really picking over the details.
The bigger differentiator, though, is the Mavic Pro has the same computer vision-powered obstacle avoidance and subject-tracking/follow-me advantages that make the Phantom 4 so compelling. That said, the new drone also has all the shortcomings of those systems — like the fact they can only detect what’s directly in front of the cameras and not behind.
Battery life is longer than the Phantom 4 with up to 26 minutes of flight time. That’s also longer than the Karma’s battery, which is only lasts 20 minutes.
FIGHT: GoPro Karma vs. DJI Mavic Pro
I’m not trying to bash GoPro and the Karma, but when DJI, the leading consumer drone maker can build a more compact foldable drone that’s just as fast (up to 40 miles per hour), includes a built-in 4K camera and has onboard computer vision, I have to wonder if GoPro can keep up with its competition.
Obviously, the Karma is larger because it needs to accommodate the Karma Grip handle, so perhaps flight time will never have parity, but not having any of the intelligence the DJI drones is extremely disappointing and could ultimately doom the Karma.
Artificial intelligence is the only thing preventing drones from going rogue when their flyers lose control of them.
Going forward, the kind of artificial intelligence that exists in DJI’s drones will be a key way that drones remain safe when their flyers lose control of them.
“Karma won’t launch with object avoidance or subject tracking/follow me experiences because we made the decision to focus on other features and make Karma more versatile in other ways because, frankly, we don’t think that object avoidance or subject-tracking/follow me technologies are in place where they actually deliver on what the consumer expects,” Woodman said at the Karma’s launch event. “[The] follow-me [feature] in the consumer’s mind is a lot different than what current follow-me experiences are from existing drones. As I mentioned, we really want to exceed customer expectation, not lead them astray.”
I think even though the computer vision on drones like DJI’s Phantom 4 and the new Mavic Po can be iffy, they’re still pretty good, and, as a fall-back safety mechanism, I’d rather have it than not.
So what does Woodman think is the big differentiator for the Karma?
“We decided to focus on essentially what Karma is: the most compact, portable, convenient stabilization solution that has ever been,” Woodman said. “Whether that’s aerial footage you want to capture, handheld or body- or gear-mounted, it’s all in that backpack. And that backpack is on your back, while you’re hiking, biking, skiing, going to the beach — I’ve gone on two mountain bike rides where I forgot that I had Karma on my back until I pulled up at a beautiful vista and literally, I thought, ‘Dude, this would be so sick if I had a Karma on my back!‘ For two hours I was riding, I completely forgot that I had it.
“And we just felt that’s where we’re gonna spend our time, that’s where we’re gonna spend our energy and that’s what we’re going to ask our customers to spend their money. On that experience which we think will exceed their expectations as opposed to other products.”
And for what’s its worth, several GoPro product guys told me the software updates could enable follow-me and obstacle-avoidance features. But they stopped at detailing how that would work or if the updates would come to future GoPros. The drone itself, after all, doesn’t have any physical hardware that’s dedicated to avoiding objects.
What that amounts to is GoPro’s Karma will already be far behind DJI when it launches on Oct. 23.
There are still tons of diehard GoPro users who are pumped for the Karma. But I’m willing to bet many of them will see the Mavic Pro and see that has features like the follow-me that will let them focus on doing things, extreme or not, and let the drone focus on doing what it does best: recording you from the air.