Where are all the drones: Is DJI slowing down?

Ever since the Phantom 4 Pro and Mavic were launched last October, fans have been speculating when the next consumer drone would be announced. After a year of nothing but the Spark, surely DJI was preparing for something big. Many were expecting DJI's recent press event to be the great unveiling of the Phantom 5 or something equally ambitious. Unfortunately, not only did the Phantom 5 fail to make an appearance, but drones were hardly mentioned. Instead, we got…a camera. And with the holiday season around the corner, the next opportunity for a launch might be early Spring 2018.

Before this last year, DJI had been moving at lightening speed, with each new drone releasing sooner than the last. DJI was almost releasing drones too fast - old models were still top of the line and consumers became afraid to buy knowing an even better drone was just around the corner. I remember buying a Phantom 4 in May 2016, not long after it's release and feeling a bit disappointed less than 6 months later when the Mavic launched with the same capabilities in a portable package.

But after this surge of drones, there's been a strange pause in new models in the middle segment. We got the Spark, which filled the low end drone for the first time, but likely wasn't enough for more serious hobbyist and low end professionals. Even worse, DJI released some new "models" of the Mavic and Phantom 4 Pro. The Mavic Platinum is quieter and lasts a few more minutes in the air. And the Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian has….a new paint job? Did it really take a year to come up with that?

So what is the cause for this slump we're in? Some would say that DJI is slowing down from lack of competition. DJI isn't just ahead of the competition - they are miles in front. With an estimated global market share of at least 70%, DJI is dominating. Perhaps DJI has realized this and are taking advantage of the time to work on a longer term strategy and build more reliable, refined drones.

Another possible reason is that Dji continues to prioritize its professional series - the Inspire, m200, etc. No doubt there is a lot of profit in these expensive machines and perhaps more post sale revenue as well. The challenge is that many "professionals" rely on the Phantom and Mavic series to do their jobs. Hopefully DJI recognizes that and continues to offer professional value in the middle segment as well.

But the real reason for the perceived slow down is just a misunderstaing of what DJI does: DJI is not a drone company. That might sound crazy, but look at it this way: DJI gained fame through their excellent quadcopters, but building a good flying machine isn't enough - flying drones for fun only goes so far. Instead drones are a means to an end…but what exactly is that end? For DJI, we might say that it is the camera.

No other part of the drone has gotten as much attention as the camera. At the beginning of the Phantom line, DJI was using off the shelf cameras from GoPro, but they quickly realized that this wasn't the optimal solution for capturing images from the sky. From there, Dji has been building near top of the line optics and offering a range of camera and lens options for its professional line. This last announcement with no drone in sight only confirms the importance of the camera. The drone serves as a means to put that camera in places it couldn't go before, and also separates DJI from the competition who have no knowledge of drones. I would even take that thought a step further and say that DJI isn't so much camera company…but one that captures experiences to share with others.

The good news is that being a flying camera company isn't a bad thing - it's what the majority of pilots are really doing anyway. We just might need to be more patient for new models. If the new models don't offersignificantly better ways of taking pictures, DJI won't build them. A drone with a higher top speed or slightly larger battery doesn't really help you do that. Until then, we will be stuck with drones in new paint colors.