Kings of the Sky

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In the 1990s Microsoft was the indomitable force hovering over the tech industry. The internet had started to emerge but wouldn’t start changing the world until a couple years into the new millennium. No, Microsoft had full run of the court and no matter who tried to defend, Bill Gates’ company was going to win. This was so much the case that the U.S. government and courts in the EU held antitrust hearings, with the initial 1999 U.S. judgement being Microsoft was a monopoly. Now under appeal a federal court overturned that ruling, staving off court mandated separation. In the moment that must have seemed crazy to the tech world; I mean articles were being written about Microsoft being king of the hill for as long as it was interested. But once the 90s ended, the internet exploded, start-up tech firms reshaped the software market, and  over the course of a decade Apple released the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Microsoft’s reign of terror dissolved seemingly overnight.

There is no company in computers or smart devices that is as dominate as 90s Microsoft. You could maybe make a case for Apple, but for every iPhone on the market there are four Android devices. Yes, Apple makes a lot of money but Samsung, LG, Motorola, Huawei, and of course Google are major players. For a true look at Microsoft style preeminence turn your eyes to consumer electronics, specifically drones and camera stabilization technology, and a sleeping dragon of a company in China called DJI.

Thanks to the military the term “drone” has been a part of our world for decades. Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or Unmanned Aerial System, UAS’s only became of the consumer world around the 2010s with DJI making it’s first foray in the market in 2013. DJI’s Phantom 1 was basically a cute toy; a mini helicopter that you could strap a GoPro to and fly around capturing shaky, pretty much unusable footage. But as technology goes the germ of possibilities had been planted in the market and DJI was there basically before anyone else. By the time DJI had released the Phantom 2 and the Phantom 3 it had worked out much the flight and stabilization concerns, developed its own line of cameras, and made a name for themselves while their competition was scrambling to catch up.

For the best illustration of how unprepared the market was for DJI and drones, GoPro was the rising star of photography and video with its Hero line of action camera. In 2013 when DJI introduced a way to put a Hero in the sky, GoPro simply said that’s neat while DJI licked secretly set out to steal the Hero’s lunch. Five years later DJI wouldn’t dare connecting a GoPro camera to its drones. For one thing the DJI line of drone and stabilized action cameras has surpassed the Hero line in virtually every way, but DJI set out to do exactly what Microsoft did. Both companies entered a market, introduced a single product (for Microsoft it was Windows), learned how its customers interacted with it, and then created its own line of supplementary accessories that consumers were craving.

This shrewd move has made DJI the unquestioned king of drone manufacturers. GoPro tried to catch up, and not only failed miserably but nearly bankrupt in the process. From $100 entry devices to over $10K cinema drones DJI seems to be nearly impenetrable. Still if Microsoft has taught us anything, in the coming years there might be a wave of products completely unexpected turns DJI from kings to jesters.

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb


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