Ubiquiti Networks’ FrontRow Camera: Game-Changer or Gimmick?

Last week, Ubiquiti Networks (NASDAQ: UBNT) -- manufacturer of wireless data communication and wireless broadband products for the enterprise market -- announced a new product called FrontRow. FrontRow is a wearable camera built into a flattish pendant that hangs around the user's neck. Using FrontRow gives the user the ability stream video and take continuous photos while retaining the ability to experience an event, without having to hold a camera or cellphone. The two-sided pendant also comes with a customized operating system that can integrate with other applications. Here are the product details:

  • A round, 1.96-inch LCD display with a resolution of 640 x 572.
  • A Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset.
  • 2 GB of RAM.
  • Two cameras: an 8-megapixel main camera and 5-megapixel front camera. The former has a 140-degree wide-angle lens, and both can stream video up to a 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second.
  • 32 GB of storage space, but no microSD slot to expand storage.
  • Up to 2 hours of battery life while livestreaming, up to 16 hours through Story Mode (taking pictures continuously and putting them into a time-lapse as seen here).  
  • A USB Type-C port which fully charges in 20 minutes.
  • Weight: 55 grams
  • Streams to: Google's Youtube, Facebook and Twitter and integrates with Dropbox and Spotify.
  • A FrontRow app for both Andriod and iOS.
  • Has its own operating system called FrontRow OS, a customized version of Android.
  • $399 suggested retail price.

A new leaf

The product marks an entirely new area for Ubiquiti in the consumer wearable space. Ubiquiti is primarily known for its service provider and enterprise WiFi products, although the company did start a consumer division just last summer called Ubiquiti Labs. Still, the initial product from that division was Amplifi, a consumer router that essentially provided the same function -- WiFi connectivity -- as the company's enterprise products. The new venture into the consumer wearable market -- a market that has, in general, not been kind to investors -- is a bold but daunting new undertaking.

The skeptic says...

Some may see this as a foolish venture for Ubiquiti, outside the company's core competency, and in an unattractive industry. According to the company, the product was the idea of CEO Robert Pera, which came about when he was sitting court-side at a Memphis Grizzlies game (the team he owns). That may seem to some like a distracting vanity project. Others may wonder why the company would be investing in new markets if the growth trajectory in its core markets were as good as management claims.

Moreover, the "life-logging camera" is not new. It has been tried by numerous start-ups and hardware giants alike. According to reports, these predecessors haven't gained much traction. However, FrontRow does seem to have a cool design and better features, but will this difference lead to wider adoption?

The optimist says...

On the other hand, continuous experimentation is a core competency of Ubiquiti. Due to its lean business model, the company can afford to take lots of "bets" without investing much, at least in dollar terms. Therefore, it could be argued that FrontRow is a "heads I win, tails I don't lose much" scenario. After all, until 2011, the company did not even have an enterprise division. Now that division is almost half a billion dollars per year in sales, recently surpassing its legacy service provider segment.

Moreover,  FrontRow does seem to be a better product than predecessors. The livestreaming to Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube and the 2-inch screen on a customized OS are true differentiators.

If the product does gain traction, it could be impactful. At first glance, it seems possible FrontRow could take some market share from GoPro (NASDAQ: GPRO). In any case, if FrontRow manages to sell one-tenth the units that GoPro does (GoPro made $1.3 billion in the past twelve months), FrontRow could add about $100 million in annual sales, which would increase Ubiquiti's revenue by roughly 12%. That's significant.

As those who have read my previous articles can attest, I am a fan of Ubiquiti. To me, the FrontRow product is a welcome experiment and should give investors optimism that more new products are coming down the pike. I wouldn't stake my investment in Ubiquiti on the success of this product or even the consumer division, but FrontRow is a welcome addition.

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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Billy Duberstein owns shares of Alphabet (C shares), Facebook, and Ubiquiti Networks. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Facebook, GoPro, Twitter, and Ubiquiti Networks. 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.