GoPro’s CEO believes a simple video editing app holds the key to the company’s future

Nick Woodman thinks QuikStories represents the path forward for GoPro. The company’s founder/CEO doesn’t hold back. “You can say this is the biggest thing we’ve done to simplify the experience of sharing video since the invention of the GoPro itself,” he says matter of factly.

Woodman has always been GoPro’s biggest cheerleader, from its founding in 2004, to the major financial struggles over the past several years that have led many analysts to declare the hardware maker dead in the water. Investors haven’t always agreed with the decisions made under his leadership, but his unbridled enthusiasm has never been in question — and the new app is no exception.

Unfortunately, however, it’s not that great. On the face of it, QuikStories is Instagram Stories or Apple Clips for the action camera. It’s the shortest path from a GoPro camera to social media. The app automatically edits clips and photos into a short video, complete with music and transitions. It is, Woodman believes, the missing link standing between the company’s cameras and meaningful mainstream adoption.

“Our customers [had] a bottleneck to actually transforming clips into an exciting video that they could enjoy themselves and share with others,” Woodman tells TechCrunch. “QuikStories is the uncorking of that bottleneck and the opening of the floodgates and making it easier for customers to easily take advantage of the GoPro in the form of a story that’s easily generated on their phone.”

Uncorking the bottleneck

QuikStories is the product of a refocused company. Four years ago, GoPro reshuffled things, and began rebuilding its software team from the ground up, convinced that it was the way forward for a company that appeared to be painting itself into a corner. Early last year, it bought a pair of video editing companies — Stupeflix and Vemory — for a combined $105 million. Stupeflix’s iOS app, Replay, served as the foundation for this new offering.

The change of approach was necessary, Woodman explains, because GoPro’s strategy has traditionally been so focused on hardware. Five generations of the company’s flagship Hero line have resulted in a piece of push-button hardware that’s easy to use out of the box. But while GoPros have become ubiquitous among video professionals looking to capture something from an unconventional point of view, smartphones and social media have set the standard for video simplicity among consumers.

“What happens to a business that has been successful in selling a solution that has been incomplete for the consumer?” Woodman asks rhetorically. “What happens when that business fixes that problem and now has a solution that’s very easy for the consumer to be successful with? We believe that can have a dramatic impact on our company because it’s going to have a dramatic impact on consumers.“

As he speaks, it feels as if Woodman is betting a big piece of his company’s future on this simple video editing app — and honestly, that’s not all that far from the truth. QuikStories’ success or failure won’t be what makes or breaks GoPro at the end of the day, but the app — coupled with the smartphone connectivity the company has rolled out in recent years — is a key pillar of its strategy moving forward.

It’s a hell of a lot to hang on a single app — particularly one that, as of writing this piece, doesn’t feel fully baked.

Software is hard, too

Our video producer Veanne has spent much of the past few days playing around with QuikStories. The build, it’s worth noting right off the bat, isn’t quite final, so some of the issues may be resolved when the final version drops today. Thus far, the app has only been available in limited release to the GoPro team and a handful of beta reviewers, ourselves included.

It’s easy to see how the app could ultimately serve as a useful tool for users looking for the path of least resistance from shooting to sharing. The company won’t go into detail about the secret sauce fueling the choices it makes as far as what to include in a given story, except to say that it has developed an “algorithm to identify ‘highlight’ moments within video,” according to a rep.

Veanne was pretty disappointed by the end results of the automated process:

In auto-mode, my final Quikstory highlighted the following: my stubby fingers adjusting the camera, 10 too many clips of trees during the bike ride, the bike falling to the ground, several blurry shots and my dog’s bum — two minutes of ‘meh.’

The algorithm leaves something to be desired in this early version, but users can, thankfully, go back and tinker with things after the machine spits out the video. Veanne again:

You have the option to actually move clips around, trim footage, choose a different song, change the duration of the video. Lots of presets filled with colorful filters and whimsical transitions for any mood. It’s a bit cumbersome and glitchy, but fun to tinker with, but the interface ultimately appeals more to the average smartphone user on holiday than the hardcore GoPro enthusiast jumping down cliffs and quarter pipes.

The app’s ultimate success will depend, in part, on finding the balance between automation and customization. Ideally the videos it outputs will be strong enough to stand on their own, however. At a certain point, re-editing sort of defeats QuikStories’ primary purpose. After all, there are plenty of options for simple video editing, including recent entries from companies like Apple. There’s some pretty stiff competition on that side of things.

Battery life is another major issue at this stage. The camera needs to stay on in order to transfer footage to the app, so things drain pretty quickly. The app also crashed a couple of times during testing, though that, hopefully, is just a byproduct of testing an unfinished version.

According to the company, future versions of the QuikStories will be incorporated directly into the GoPro app. The company is figuring out how to best do that without removing functionality for pro users — it’s the trap that Apple got caught up in with the release of Final Cut Pro X, which pissed off its base when it traded functionality for usability. “So much of GoPro’s business is the higher end of the market,” Woodman says. “I think what’s important is that QuikStories doesn’t get in their way at all.”

GoPro has spent a decade and a half fixated on hardware at the expense of solid software experiences. It’s been clear for some time now that getting GoPro back on track was going to be hard — and that’s doubly true when so much of the company’s plan is invested in a piece of the puzzle that has been neglected for so long. “Hardware is hard,” Woodman says with a laugh. “Software is hard, too.”

It’s probably not catchy enough to sell a lot of t-shirts, but it gets the point across. Righting the ship is going to take a while.

The untethered lens

If it’s going to succeed, GoPro needs to continue to grow. That means finding ways to keep expanding beyond the relatively narrow world of professional filmmaking. Much of that potential market has been eroded by the increasing ubiquity and sophistication of smartphone cameras. For many users, the idea of carrying around a devoted camera — even one with a relatively unique form factor — has become superfluous.

In recent years, GoPro’s hardware strategy has shifted to accommodate smartphones. In the consumer context, Woodman and team have begun referring to the company’s titular cameras as “the untethered lens.” The idea is that the device is a way of extending a smartphone camera’s reach beyond where its own form factor allows. That could mean the company’s traditional action sports wheelhouse, but also any other situation where holding a smartphone is less than ideal.

This is where the company expects QuikStories to thrive: those instances where you just want to pull out a camera, shoot something and share it. Woodman recounts using the app to shoot a video of his family playing Candy Land over the weekend. “Not exactly action or adventure,” he says. “But I was able to document my children playing this classic board game as they completely melted down and went full Game of Thrones on each other.”

At $400, the Hero5 Black is far too pricey to serve as that tethered lens. Over the years, though, the company has expanded its camera offerings to better compete with increased competition in the space. The entry-level GoPro currently runs $149 — a far more reasonable price in line with this “untethered lens” notion. But is it cheap enough to cement the company’s offerings as a secondary camera for those instances when, for whatever reason, holding a smartphone just won’t do?

It’s a leap — especially when the company is still so closely associated with the action sports community. The idea of having a GoPro on-hand in case of a Candy Land-related incident is probably not something most casual users have considered. And even when all of the bugs have been ironed out of QuikStories, the app isn’t going to deliver that new audience itself. Apple’s recent foray into the space with Clips is a good example of how difficult it is to attract and retain an audience with simple video editing software.

Finding broader appeal is going to require more than just a new software approach (though it’s a start). Getting there will require a shift in marketing strategies and a further expansion of the company’s product line. Action sports will always be a core of the company that Woodman first dreamt up on a surfing trip to Australia, but the company needs to make a compelling case for the GoPro as an everyday piece of consumer electronics.

In its current state, QuikStories just isn’t that compelling.