Do you need a GoPro camera if you have a smartphone? We asked GoPro

Do you need a GoPro camera if you have a smartphone? We asked GoPro

13 mins read

Key Takeaways

  • GoPro views its cameras as complementary to smartphones, not in direct competition. Each device serves different purposes and has unique capabilities.
  • The ruggedness and convenience of GoPro cameras make them appealing for capturing activities that smartphones aren’t designed for, such as extreme sports and outdoor adventures.
  • GoPro is continuously working on improving the user experience, with a focus on simplifying controls and introducing new features like zoom, depth, and long photography. Additionally, the company is developing advanced editing capabilities to make it easier for users to navigate and share their footage.

As the saying goes, the best camera is the one that’s with you, and for most of us, that’s the camera built into our smartphone.

Why do I need a GoPro when I have my iPhone/Pixel/Samsung phone? That’s the first thing I hear when I talk to friends, family, and coworkers about GoPro cameras. So, I posed the same question to Pablo Lema, head of product at GoPro, during the 2023 GoPro Creator Summit in Fiji that took place over the last week of October.

Does anyone really need a GoPro?

“We actually don’t see cell phones as an overt competition,” Lema told me. Instead, GoPro views a smartphone camera and GoPro as “complementary” to each other. (To be clear, Lema views the smartphone as a secondary camera, not GoPro.)

Lema continued, “There are many things for which we don’t believe our solutions would ever be helpful for. So, for example, you’re sitting at dinner, and you want to take a picture of your food and send it to some friends… it’s not our place.”

He’s right. I’ve tried using a GoPro in that exact situation, and the pictures in the low-light setting of a restaurant weren’t great. It’s much easier to snap a photo on your phone and immediately share it without having to sync the GoPro with your phone, save the picture, and then, finally, share it.

But, GoPro doesn’t view its camera lineup as a device only meant to capture people jumping out of a plane, mountain biking, surfing or scuba diving. Instead, it’s designed to help people document or capture all sorts of activities, such as hiking and travel.

Again, the question has to be asked: Why not just use your phone?

“The desire to use one of our devices is met because of ruggedness and convenience. It’s okay to lose your GoPro, it’s okay to break a GoPro. If you lose or break your phone, your whole life is done,” Lema explained to me, as he equated losing your phone to being excommunicated from society until you get a new one.

He’s right. Again. The idea of breaking or losing my phone scares me for many reasons, the least of which is losing all means of communication until it’s been replaced.

While you technically could use a phone to capture yourself doing extreme sports and activities, phones aren’t designed to be used that way. They’re too fragile. Too important. But there’s more to it than that. People are attracted to more than just the ruggedness of a GoPro. The company’s cameras are known for having an iconic wide field of view and impressive stabilization, for example.

GoPro sells between three and four million cameras a year, according to Lema. That’s far more than I expected, but it pales in comparison to the 1.21 billion smartphones sold in 2022, according to the IDC.

GoPro Hero 12 Black (26)-1Simplifying the GoPro experience for those who want it

Over the last two years, there’s been a clear shift within GoPro in trying to make their cameras more appealing and easier to use for a wider audience, or Active Captures, as GoPro calls them.

With the GoPro Hero11 Black and Hero12 Black, GoPro debuted two different modes for controlling the camera: Easy and Pro. Easy is akin to what you’d see in the camera app on your phone – very few buttons and settings. You select a mode – time-lapse, video, photo – then point and shoot. Easy Controls is the new default mode on new GoPro cameras. It’s a very smartphone-like experience.

Pro Controls makes all of the settings available to you, including resolution, aspect ratio, exposure, white balance, frame rate and so on. It can be intimidating and downright confusing for new and experienced users alike.

GoPro is going to continue working on, iterating, and improving how you control its cameras, according to Lema. “We launch, we test, get feedback from the users, see the analytics of how they’re using Easy Controls, and then we refine it.”



I’d love to see GoPro remove the Wide and Linear lens options in Easy mode. Change their names to their equivalent of 0.5x, 1x, and 2x, just like we are all familiar with… on smartphones. Additionally, more preset shooting options in the various modes, such as adding interval shooting, which launched on the Hero12 Black, to photo mode.

What’s next for GoPro?

So, what’s next for GoPro? Where does the company that pioneered the action camera industry go from here? It continues to embrace creators with new hardware and software that’s more versatile.

In addition to simplifying controls, GoPro has also embraced the shift to vertical video over the last couple of years, thanks to a bigger sensor that shoots video in an 8:7 aspect ratio, allowing creators to crop horizontally or vertically after the fact. This is a change that’s undoubtedly aimed at attracting creators and vloggers.

On the hardware front, GoPro has already announced that a new 360-degree camera – the GoPro Max 2 – is in the works and expected to launch in 2024. In early 2022, GoPro CEO Nick Woodman announced the company would soon be expanding its hardware lineup with new models that appeal to more users. The timing, however, wasn’t revealed, and we’re yet to see any new cameras from the company that don’t fall under the Hero lineup.

GoPro Hero 12 Black (36)-1

“I’m trying to dance around it without telling you the future,” Lema told me as he tried to detail what’s next for GoPro. He continued, “But we will think of use cases like zoom, depth, and long photography.”

This week, during GoPro’s 2023 earnings call, Woodman announced the company would introduce “several new types of cameras” over the next two years, starting in the second quarter of 2024, when the company will introduce a new low-cost, entry-level product. The new cameras, according to Woodman, would address “distinct use cases.”

But hardware is only half of, and arguably the easiest part of the equation. The other half revolves around the most common complaint I hear from people who’ve bought a GoPro and given up on using it: They don’t want to go through and edit all of their footage. I feel the same way, especially after returning from Fiji with over 100GB of content to sift through.

GoPro’s Quik desktop app was supposed to launch on Nov. 1, but that release has been slightly delayed until later this month for the Mac, and sometime in the second quarter of 2024 for Windows users.

The desktop app will feature the same automatic edit capabilities as the mobile app, as well as sync your media and any edits you’re working on between mobile and desktop. In addition to the new desktop app, Woodman also announced a new Premium+ subscription that will cost $99 a year and will include an advanced HyperSmooth video stabilization feature plus increased storage for non-GoPro captured content.

The Quik app automatically creates a recap video for you after you’ve uploaded your footage to GoPro’s servers, and while the edits it provides are good, they’re not great. I use them as a starting point, saving me time, for any videos I share with friends and family. In that regard, the Quik app does its job. But it could be better.

GoPro’s working on it, and a big piece of that puzzle is what the company calls Quik AI, which has been in use for a long time but will get better and smarter.

Eventually, Quik will analyze your video, understand what’s in said video, be it specific people or activity, get rid of the stuff it knows you don’t care about, keep what you like, and give you an edited video that’s, hopefully, ready for you to share with minimal work.

Getting to that point will take time and feedback from users to train Quik on what the user does and doesn’t like, but that’s the broader vision for the editing experience in the Quik app.

GoPro speedboat creator summit 2023A GoPro and a smartphone do indeed complement one another

While at the Creator Summit, I experienced firsthand what it was like to live with and use a GoPro as a primary camera, with my smartphone as a secondary device. I mounted and used the GoPro in many different scenarios in Fiji, such as when jumping off a pier, attached to a jet ski, or leaving it out overnight to capture the stars, which I’d never dreamt of using my smartphone phone for. The same goes in reverse; I used my smartphone to take pictures of almost every meal, a couple of sunsets, and other random moments, and the ease of use and sharing was unmatched.

“We think of ourselves, as we go forward, we will be a specialized imaging company for anywhere where a phone isn’t, by design, a good capture device,” Lema told me about the company’s future. And you know what? I’m here for it.

After spending a week in Fiji with content creators and athletes from all over the world and seeing the results they were able to get from the Hero12 Black, I can’t help but feel intrigued and even excited by the fact that it sure sounds like GoPro is actively working on and plans to release a dedicated vlogging camera that’s more versatile and better suited for filming everyday life and other use cases more people can relate to.

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