On one hand, Clips itself is unlikely to do a lot of damage to GoPro's top line. To argue otherwise is to lack an understanding of how GoPro cameras are used and differentiated, what Clips does and doesn't do or all of the above.
On the other hand, if Google or one of its Android OEM partners puts the technology that makes Clips so unique into cameras that do take aim at GoPro, it might be a problem for the company. At least unless GoPro gets its hands on the technology itself.
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Clips, which will retail for $249, measures just 1.9 inches on both sides, and weighs a mere 1.5 ounces. It has a 12-megapixel image sensor, 16GB of storage and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and (as its name implies) comes with a clip that lets the camera easily attach to various objects. It can also use the Wi-Fi Direct protocol to quickly transfer content to Android phones for viewing and sharing.
Clips' big selling point: It can use machine learning algorithms to automatically start recording when it thinks something interesting is going on. Google claims Clips can even figure out which people and animals a user interacts with the most, and focus on recording them. 3 hours of such "smart capture" is promised per charge.
GoPro shares tumbled as soon as Clips was unveiled at Google's Pixel 2 phone event, falling 6.3% to $10.39 on Oct. 4 and another 5.8% to $9.79 on Thursday afternoon. Many are apparently worried that Clips will damage sales of GoPro's tiny Hero5 Session and Hero Session cameras, which respectively retail for $300 and $150. But big differences exist between Clips' feature set and that of the Session cameras.
The biggest one: Video taken by the Session cameras record audio, and can be as long as a user wants. Google, perhaps sensitive to privacy fears related to a camera that can start recording without human intervention, built Clips to record audio-free "motion photos" that only last several seconds. Google is pitching Clips as a complement to smartphone-based video recording rather than a replacement, a way to capture moments that a user didn't have a smartphone's camera app loaded for.
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The full list of features that the Session cameras have and Clips doesn't might be enough to fill a separate column. Some of the notably ones: The Session cameras are rugged and waterproof (standard for GoPro cameras), support a number of mounts and accessories, can shoot time-lapse and burst photos and can shoot videos at high frame rates. The Hero5 Session also supports 4K video recording and voice commands, and comes with noise-reduction and video-stabilization tech.
Though GoPro initially tried to market its Session cameras as a way to record everyday life events -- possibly while putting the camera in spots where one couldn't put a smartphone, or would be uncomfortable doing so -- this sales pitch saw limited traction, as the masses generally decided smartphones were versatile enough for their needs and more convenient for social sharing purposes. Today, the Session cameras, like GoPro's larger Hero6 Black and Hero5 Black cameras, are primarily marketed as a way to record action and sports footage. And it's pretty unlikely that many consumers buying Session cameras for this purposes will be persuaded to buy Clips instead.
But in the long run, it's also not hard to imagine technology that lets a camera start recording whenever an algorithm figures out something is worth filming finding a home in action cameras. Whereas GoPro cameras typically deliver a couple hours or so recording time per charge at higher resolutions, someone partaking in the kind of outdoor activities the cameras commonly film might be doing so for several hours or more in a day. Not to mention that at times, a user may be too caught up in what he or she is doing to turn the camera on when something video-worthy starts happening.
Thus a lot of action camera users would probably appreciate having Clips-like technology built into their devices, provided the algorithms work well and audio recording is part of the package. And one can imagine Google, which likely cares more about growing Android's ecosystem than about its own camera sales, making the technology available to third-party OEMs, including action camera makers.
GoPro, of course, could become one of the OEMs in question, should Google embark on such a strategy. But until there's more clarity on how Google aims to further commercialize Clips' technology, that's purely speculative. For the moment, an innovative technology that arguably makes sense for action cameras is being brought to market by a company other than GoPro.
That in and of itself isn't anything for GoPro investors to panic over, and almost certainly didn't warrant the plunge that GoPro shares took in response to Clips' unveiling. But it's worth keeping an eye on in the months to come.