Bad news for faithful GoPro (GPRO) investors who were counting on the soon-to-be-launched Fusion 360 virtual reality camera to rekindle the stock’s recent rebound effort. Nokia (NOK) which makes a competing VR camera called the Ozo, has halted the development of the device due to lack of demand. In simplest terms, the virtual reality market just isn’t becoming what it was supposed to be at this point.
GoPro fans and followers who’ve kept close tabs on the virtual reality (and augmented reality) industry likely already have a strong of counterarguments lined up. I’ll head them off at the pass by saying I agree with most of them, and particularly agree that the wide price difference between the Fusion and the Ozo are like night and day. The former, which will become available next month at a palatable price of $699 is aimed at the lower-end amateur crowd, while the bank-breaking Ozo’s sticker price of $45,000 was reserved for professional content producers.
The broad hint still applies though. That is, virtual reality simply isn’t living up to the hype. Inasmuch as a few too many investors have been expecting big things from the Fusion 360, that small wave of disappointment and a sizeable (no pun intended) reality check could easily up-end an already-wobbly GoPro that delivers anything less than greatness this holiday quarter.
Peaked Too Soon
I’ll say what few others are willing to pen or voice: Virtual reality and its close cousin augmented reality haven’t lived up to the hype from a year and a half ago before headsets like the Oculus Rift and the VR-supporting PlayStation 4 from Sony (SNE) debuted. Early last year Goldman Sachs predicted VR would be a $180 billion industry — eclipsing television — by 2025.
Technically speaking it’s still got eight years to reach that mark. But, if 2017’s lethargic uptake is any indication, the VR/AR market is going to fall short of those once-lofty expectations. Price drops for VR headsets, some as much as $200 per unit, have helped a little, but demand has been tepid relative to the buzz from just a year earlier. As James Iliff, co-founder and creative chief at VR game maker Survios, opined of the letdown, “We are very much in a trough of disillusionment.”
We are very much in a trough of disillusionment.
It’s a more appropriate way of putting it than Iliff may have realized.
Few investors and even fewer analysts ever care to confess it, but it’s easy to become enamored by the premise of a thing without actually thinking about the marketability of that thing.
3D printers come to mind. 3D printing stocks like 3D Systems (DDD) were all the rage — and the financial media was more than willing to fuel that hype in 2012 — as the costs of 3D printers came down and their capabilities became functional enough to use as a high-capacity manufacturing tool. As it turns out, though super-cool, 3D printers weren’t yet super-marketable.
The irony? While few were looking, 3D printing has since become a viable business, with 3D printers increasingly utilized in a manufacturing and at-home setting.
The mistake was in the timing. Analysts convinced themselves and investors that those names were must-haves at the time. The business wouldn’t mature and the market’s key companies wouldn’t reach investment-worthy maturity until years later when all the latecomers would fall by the way side.
The solar panel craze of 2008 is another one of these hype cycles — a term coined by (or at least attributed to) IT research outfit Gartner. Investors had the right idea but overestimated when panel makers would see the big payoff.
In retrospect, it’s increasingly looking like the VR/AR mania of 2016 was the peak of another hype cycle. It’s not a doomed business. Consumers just aren’t ready for it yet, and there’s still a distinct lack of VR content to immerse yourself in. The Fusion 360 could arguably change that, but it sets the stage for the proverbial chicken/egg argument.
A Lower Price Doesn’t Really Help
As for the lower pricing, I can’t disagree that a price tag of $699 makes the Fusion 360 considerably more marketable than the $45,000 Ozo. Though the Ozo is a considerably more powerful, professional caliber- a piece of equipment (though not leaps and bounds so), CEO Nick Woodman may be committing the same error he did with the earlier and more recent versions of the basic Hero cameras.
That is, while everyone respects the craftsmanship, not everybody wants one. And, they certainly don’t want two. More than that, those consumers who are on the fence with the idea of owning an action camera can find cheaper options that are “good enough.”
Case in point: Here’s a list of eleven cheaper and easy-to-find alternatives to a high-end Hero that it took me and Google about half a second to find. Ditto for drones. The Karma is cool to be sure, but so is the DJI Mavic… a better toy and at a better price.
With that as the backdrop, know that alternatives to the Fusion 360 are already available. The Giroptic IO and Nikon’s Key Mission 360 are a couple of them, both of which cost less than the Fusion 360. Barring a compelling reason to justify the higher price to the average amateur, the Fusion 360 is already up against a crowded field, and it’s not even selling yet. Never even mind the fact that consumers haven’t been overwhelmingly interested in virtualization.
But virtual reality is best utilized for video gaming, with games projected to account for about 45% of the entire VR market once it matures? That’s absolutely still a valid argument. Unfortunately for GoPro, VR games don’t require a VR camera to create (and even gamers aren’t busting down doors to get VR hardware). The hardware sliver of this market is pretty limited and will be even once it does reach scale a few years from now.
The Big Takeaway
As was noted, the good news is, GoPro and its shareholders weren’t likely counting on sales of the Fusion 360 to be a fiscal game-changer. It’s still predominantly an action camera outfit that also makes aerial drones. On the flipside, it spent a fair amount of time and money developing the Fusion 360 as a follow-up to last year’s Odyssey 360-degree VR camera. Woodman obviously sees something in this niche and sees it taking shape soon. Unfortunately, as was the case with action cameras and more recently drones, he sees too little of the company’s competition and overestimates.
To the extent GPRO shares were being propped up the company’s deeper foray into virtual reality hardware, that’s how much the stock could be deflated when the Fusion 360 whiffs. Nokia’s abdication, along with the delayed embrace of VR experiences, speaks volumes about how long it might be until there’s a market worth addressing with virtual reality cameras.
It’s all about the company’s action cameras and drones, if GoPro is to dig its way out of the hole it finds itself in.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.