When you think DJI, one product immediately comes to mind. Camera drones. Halfway through 2019, and it’s radio silence from their drone division. That’s not to say the company has been quiet.
DJI has released the Osmo Pocket, Osmo Action, and the RoboMaster S1. All three are solid products, but none are flagship products. The RoboMaster S1 is impressive but unproven. It has nowhere near the market of consumer camera drones, and while the education angle is compelling, the outlook is muddled at best.
Next is the Osmo Action. Again, a solid product, but it’s fighting GoPro, the behemoth of the action camera market. Sure, GoPro took a beating from DJI once, but it was when the company tried to enter the drone market. DJI stepped all over the Karma with the original Mavic forcing GoPro to exit the market.
Action cameras are an entirely different animal. It’s DJI encroaching on GoPro’s turf. Think of it like the drone market. There’s DJI and then everyone else. For action cameras, you swap DJI for GoPro and then everyone else. That’s not to say the Osmo Action can’t succeed, but it needs to figure out whether it wants to be an action camera or a vlogging solution. Either do one extremely well or both in the mediocre range.
Then there’s the Osmo Pocket. Sure, it’s the tiniest three-axis stabilized camera, but at some point, size does matter. Want to take full advantage of every feature? You’ll need your phone to create the best cinematic shots or a ton of patience. And the second you reach for the smartphone, you could have saved $200 and opted for the Osmo Mobile 2.
It’s here which leads us into a host of reasons DJI isn’t releasing a flagship camera drone in 2019.
DJI Product Cannibalization
Let’s take a look at the current lineup of DJI camera drones. It has the Mavic 2 line, the original Mavic, Mavic Air, and the Spark. Oh, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, though out-of-stock for over six months, is listed as part of its lineup of consumer drones. So let’s pretend like DJI’s webmaster that the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is still a product.
Mavic 2 > Phantom 4 Pro?
Now comes the cannibalization. The Mavic 2 Pro is essentially the P4P on a serious diet. Same sensor. Battery life is right there. The range is similar. Shot modes. You get the idea. Yes, there are some differences like no 4K60p and the still resolution on the Mavic 2 Pro isn’t equal to the P4P. However, it’s damn close, and if you put them side-by-side, portability wins.
If the Phantom 4 Pro magically finds its way back onto shelves, it’s a tough sell when the feature set is so close. And that doesn’t even include the Mavic 2 Zoom. Sure, it loses the 20MP sensor but gains optical zoom at $1249. And it doesn’t stop at the flagship level.
Mavic Air vs Original Mavic
On DJI’s storefront, you can still get your hands on the original Mavic and its successor, the Mavic Pro Platinum. The question I’d raise is why would you entertain purchasing either when the Mavic Air outpaces in nearly every metric. Especially price.
Would you drop $999 for a Mavic Pro Platinum? It’s advantages are it has quieter props and around 30-minute flight time. Sounds good, right? It has the 12MP sensor and shoots 4K footage.
There’s a catch at the $999 price tag. That’s for the drone alone and not the Fly More Combo which pushes the price to $1299.
Now, there is a $999 drone from DJI which does all the above and includes the extra batteries and accessories. The Mavic Air. Sure, the battery life takes a hit, but it takes portability to a new extreme. And then there’s the increased bitrate at 100Mbps versus 60Mbps on the Mavic Pro Platinum.
There’s really no reason to have the original Mavics in production when the majority of the P4P models have reached end-of-life cycles.
DJI Basically Announced It
The company didn’t come out and say they weren’t releasing a flagship drone in 2019, but a press release on drone safety signaled that was the case. In late May, DJI announced all drones weighing more than 250 grams released after January 1, 2020, will include AirSense technology. It will allow new camera drones to receive ADS-B signals from nearby planes and helicopters and warn drone pilots if a collision is possible.
It begs the question of why release a flagship product when in six months, all new drones will include this technology. The answer is simple. You don’t. What that means for a potential Spark 2 is unclear, but considering it lends itself more to the beginner market, it wouldn’t be a surprise either way if DJI launched or held off until the new year.
US – China Trade War
It’s responsible for the subtle price increases this year, and until everyone takes a deep breath and calms down, it does introduce a certain level of uncertainty into the market. And then there was the political DHS memo warning about Chinese drones spying on Americans.
It was over-the-top and followed on by a proclamation that DHS wasn’t paranoid. If it were another administration, I’d say some concern was warranted. But considering how the memo read, it was posturing. The whole not paranoid bit was weird, but what hasn’t been since 2016?
While it’s logical to point at Huawei’s ban and worry, the sequence of events which led to the ban is vastly different. Huawei was called out by name. The DHS memo was heavy on implication and bluster but never mentioned DJI specifically. Then there’s the fact the FTC hasn’t weighed in, nor has the Department of Commerce. Trade envoys on either side have left DJI’s name out of the talks.
What DHS did was introduce uncertainty into the market. Could DJI be banned? Yes. Will they? No. Fans of DJI can thank its lobbying team and the fact it was releasing its 10-point safety plan around the time of the memo.
Laws and Regulations Finally Take Shape
An area finally being cleaned up are laws and regulations for amateur and professional drone pilots. The FAA jumped the gun a bit on enthusiasts prohibiting pilots from contacting local air traffic control for clearance. The LAANC system will open it back up, but the release of the system is targeting ‘summer.’ Vague, but it’ll get ironed out.
Canada’s new drone regulations also went into effect, and while there’s a lot of consternation, the reality is these were coming. It adds clarity for not only the pilots but for local governments. Sure, you have to take a test. There’s nothing wrong with learning, and it keeps the airspace safe.
Clickbait videos are fun, but I’d rather have a system in place which opens up more sites to fly than a convoluted list of local and federal ordinances.
DJI is Camera Drones
Another reason DJI won’t release a flagship done in 2019 is a bit of an ‘Iron Man’ moment. The company is camera drones. Its market share compared against competitors like Parrot, Autel, etc. is staggering. DJI can easily take a break from the breakneck release schedule and wait for early 2020 when they plan to introduce AirSense technology on all new camera drones. Why push out a Phantom 5 now when Airsense is six months out?
So, what do we have to look forward to the rest of the year from DJI? I’d expect some exciting developments from the Osmo division of DJI. They didn’t snap up Hasselblad to only etch the name on the Mavic 2 Pro. Maybe an Osmo Cinema? Don’t forget, the original Osmo models all had camera systems.
Another possible announcement is a Spark 2. It showing out-of-stock on DJI’s website is interesting, and the company could get away with forgoing the AirSense technology, especially if they shave 50 grams off the weight.
But those waiting on the next flagship? Signs point to early 2020. Or they could announce in 2019 and ship in early 2020.