Snap, Inc. Really Does Want to Be GoPro

By Evan Niu,

Let me be clear: I was joking.

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In January, I quipped that Snap (NYSE: SNAP), which is set to price its IPO this evening ahead of commencing trading tomorrow, should just go ahead and merge with GoPro for no other reason other than that each company seemingly wants to become the other. GoPro has been trying to change its identity from a camera company to a storytelling company -- the exact opposite identity change that Snap is seeking.

Following a bizarre new report published by The New York Times last night, it appears maybe I wasn't too far off the mark.

Snap has worked on a drone

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According to The New York Times, Snap has secretly worked on developing a drone, citing three anonymous sources. The drone project appears to have started after Snap released its wearable Spectacles last year, which is the company's first camera hardware product -- as well as its first hardware product of any kind.

Snap Spectacles. Image source: Snap.

A Snap drone could allow users to capture more dramatic aerial pictures and videos that could be shared on Snapchat, much like the purpose of Spectacles. Facilitating a more diverse array of content could potentially increase engagement, the reasoning goes. Not much else is known about the drone project, including any potential timeline or even if the device will ever launch.

Diversifying into drones is a move that GoPro is in the midst of, although its Karma launch last year was marred by both delays and an immediate recall due to a loose battery that could slip out and cause the drone to abruptly lose power during operation. For GoPro, drones represent a tangential market that complement its wearable action camera niche.

Hardware is hard

Even without knowing if Snap intends to move forward with its drone aspirations, the notion sits in the same value-proposition purgatory as Spectacles. In order for any camera hardware strategy to work or create value for Snap as a company or for Snapchat as a service, it needs to be profitable, feed into the service's usage, or create some differentiation.

Exclusively tethering the hardware to the service could potentially accomplish the latter two, but that would severely limit the appeal if the hardware only works on the service. Snapchat Spectacles can export photos and videos to be shared on other social media services, so Snap realizes that Snapchat-exclusive cameras probably wouldn't sell well.

But if the hardware and service are not fundamentally linked together, then the product has to compete purely on the basis of hardware, which is an incredibly tall order to fill given the notoriously intense, competitive nature of consumer hardware. Inevitable commoditization almost always wins out in the long term, which ruins pricing power and gross margin. Snap currently operates at a negative gross margin, but mostly due to cloud infrastructure spending outpacing ad revenue growth, and the company has not broken out Spectacles results in detail.

Maybe Snap really should just go ahead and merge with GoPro, which would provide years of comedic material.

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Evan Niu, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends GoPro. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2019 $12 calls on GoPro and long January 2019 $12 puts on GoPro. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.