Will GoPro survive the threat from Apple?
It’s a familiar story – Apple enters a new market with a product concept that is not new, yet wipes away the competition by improving it, and creating consumer demand for something we didn’t even know we wanted or needed.
Well, it hasn’t quite happened yet in the case of GoPro, but the age old narrative is rolling out before our eyes. GoPro shares fell 12 per cent in January and still haven’t recovered, after Apple was granted a patent for an action camera, suggesting that the world’s most valuable company (according to the FT) is planning to go head to head with the niche tech brand.
According to The Guardian, Apple’s patent cites specific weaknesses in GoPro’s cameras and includes details about a camera system that can be mounted on bike helmets or scuba masks.
Apple has not commented on the record, and analysts say this doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple is planning to enter the action camera market.
So why then has this move had such a profound effect on GoPro’s share price?
The simple reason is that Apple being on the scene throws everything into disarray. Apple is never there first, but crucially, it bides its time, identifies what a product is missing, then launches its own game changing version that becomes the desirable consumer default for that category.
The sleek silver MacBook is the device of choice for the trendy latte-sipping creative media type, yet it was IBM that were one of the first to market by bringing us the consumer computer. Nokia brought out its 7710 touchscreen phone in 2004, three years before Apple’s iPhone saw us queue overnight for it. The Sony Walkman might have been the portable music player that every kid in the 80s and 90s had, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone now who doesn’t listen to music on an iPod (or iPhone) – which wasn’t released until 2001.
Is it a coincidence that IBM doesn’t make computers any more, or that Nokia is being phased out of the phone market altogether? Or that Sony has just revealed it is open to selling its mobile phone business, its Sony Walkman mobile brand having had its heyday?
What is the essence behind Apple’s Midas touch, or poison arrow, depending on where you sit? The writer Malcolm Gladwell explains it all here, using one of the philosophies he is now famous for – why it sucks to be first to market. He talks about how Steve Jobs famously visited Xerox in the 70s to look at their state of the art business computer that no consumer could ever afford or want to use – and by giving the product a mouse and word processing programme, he created a cultural phenomenon.
Gladwell says it again here – that it’s better to innovate than invent, and that’s what Steve Jobs built a business on.
Will it be the same for Apple Pay, which turns a year old in October? It is already overriding Weve as the mobile payment system that consumers will actually take up. If you don’t remember, Weve was borne out of a joint venture between O2, Vodafone and EE, to streamline mobile payments for retailers. It was an ambitious project, but was drastically scaled back last year – when Apple entered the mobile payments market.
Again, we ask, why? Because Apple isn’t asking us to change our whole approach to shopping. It’s just asking us to do one more thing with our iPhones – mirroring Tinder’s approach to online dating. It’s this seamlessness that does the trick for Apple – because the transition period is the real challenge when trying to change people’s behaviour on a fundamental level.
You could argue that there would be no such thing as innovation without invention, and that Apple’s behaviour is no more innovative than that of a vulture – but the results, and history, speak for themselves.
It seems then that GoPro’s future is written – so how can it save itself from the Apple effect? It already has a sexy brand and core following. It needs to put an Apple lens on itself and apply the Jobs analysis to its own products – before it becomes another case study in a Malcolm Gladwell article.
Do you have an innovation vs invention policy? Let us know!
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