It is not news that the point-and-shoot camera market has been decimated by the use of smart phones. Each annual smart phone upgrade added enhanced features that chipped away at the pocket camera’s appeal. Finally, there simply wasn’t enough of a difference between the devices to merit purchasing a stand-alone camera; the smart phone became the de facto “point-and-shoot” camera of choice.
Going forward, it is difficult to imagine a resurgence of the point-and-shoot market. There has been talk of pocket cameras shooting 360-degree images and maybe some type of 3D photos. However, for the most part, any new technology that might be used to revitalize the point-and-shoot market would also be available for use in smart phones. The simple fact is that smart phones will continue to dominate the low end of the handheld camera market for the foreseeable future.
In many ways, the current drone industry is analogous to what the camera market was ten or twelve years ago. Both have had consumer pocket models, prosumer units, and high-end professional products, but their relationship is really more significant than merely having similar product categories. Recreational drone use is now becoming more about photography and less about flying. Individuals purchasing drones today don’t have a burning desire to become expert drone pilots. Their motivation is to take cool aerial pictures and videos that can then be shared with friends and family on social media.
No one understands this trend better than UAV manufacturers themselves. New drones from DJI, Yuneec, and others include autonomous flight modes like follow me, terrain follow, tripod, tapfly, and orbit. These are self-flying routes that enable drone pilots to concentrate on photography rather than flying. DJI even bills its Phantom 4 Pro as the “Professional Flying Camera.”
UAV technology is moving fast. The selfie or pocket drone is a new UAV category that has surfaced in the last six months. Like prosumer drones, they shoot 4K video, take 13MP pictures, and can fly autonomously, but, unlike prosumer UAVs, they are smaller, lighter, and less expensive. FAA registration is not required. They have a flight range of less than 100 feet but they can fly indoors or outside. Most have enclosed propellers that protect them and their flying environment from damage. These new selfie drones have features that are closer to pocket cameras than full flight drones. In other words, these are just a flying version of the point-and-shoot cameras that were so popular ten years ago.
Examples of point-and-shoot camera drones range from Zero Zero Technology’s Hover selling for $599 (delivering product now) to Rova priced at $299 from The IOT Group (in production) to AirSelfie (currently seeking funds via Kickstarter).
AirSelfie travels with your phone.
The Consumer Technology Association predicts drone sales will top 3.4 million units in 2017 and generate $1 billion of revenue. The forecast further breaks down UAV sales by weight. Drones under 250 grams (mostly selfie, toy, and racing) will reach 2 million units and UAVs over 250 grams (prosumer and higher cost) will sell about 1.3 million units. It’s difficult to predict how many selfie drones will be sold from the under 250 gram category but, according to Colin Snow of Drone Analyst, “More than half of all buyers purchase drones to take photos or shoot video.”
Any way you analyze the data, point-and-shoot cameras are back. They will be used more often because they are portable, easy to fly, less expensive, and don’t require FAA regulation. This is an emerging technology that will disrupt the UAV industry the same way smart phones disrupted the original point-and-shoot camera market ten years ago. As technology progresses, pocket drones may become the single largest UAV category. They will generate volumes of aerial content for social media, just as smart phones render ground-based video and photos.