Innovation Turbulence

Snap is pivoting away from drones to focus on fundamentals

The Pixy drone was supposed to be Snap's next hardware frontier, but that's all over now.
Users controlling the Snap Pixy drone using gestures in a company photo. 
Users controlling the Snap Pixy drone using gestures in a company photo. 
Photo: Snap Inc.
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Snap’s ambitious launch into the drone market is done, just four months after it took flight. In April, CEO Evan Spiegel used the stage at the annual Snap Partner Summit to debut the device, which was created to let users easily take aerial selfie photos and videos, even with no previous drone experience.

As an event unveiling, a flying camera that can follow its user via gesture controls was impressive. And the device gave the public another example of how good Snap is getting at creating ready-for-the-mainstream hardware that can be easily integrated into Snapchat. But beyond that, a drone, as Quartz noted at the time, didn’t seem like a particularly urgent or necessary part of Snap’s future.

It seems Snap has come to the same conclusion, likely chastened by its poor stock performance. Snap shares have fallen from $28 to $12 since the Pixy was released.

The decision to shutter the Pixy was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which says Spiegel made the announcement at a recent companywide meeting.

Why the Pixy drone didn’t make sense despite its flashy introduction

The social media influencers that Snapchat caters to use drones all the time to record cinematic shots of their daily activities and travels. But for all their science fictional allure, drones haven’t really captured the imagination of the average consumer in the US. Of the registered drones in the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says there are only a little over 500,000 non-commercial drones in use.

How to Pair your Pixy

While the Pixy didn’t require a drone license because it was below the FAA’s weight requirements on such devices, its ease of use and connection to a popular social network didn’t generate much excitement online when the product was made available for purchase.

The question now is whether this pullback from hardware experimentation also will extend to the company’s latest Spectacles augmented reality product. Spectacles are a dazzling peek at the future of smart glasses, but they have yet to be offered as a commercial product, and the company’s less powerful, camera-based Spectacles 3 haven’t exactly taken off as a mainstream consumer product.

What this means for Snap’s immediate future

Despite the hardware misstep, the near future looks good for Snap. Its Snap+ subscription service has already pulled in over 1 million users, its Snap Originals project continues to mature into a competitive streaming video alternative, and its daily active users are on the rise, up from an average 332 million in the first quarter of 2022 to 347 million (pdf) in the second.

Snap declined to comment when contacted by Quartz regarding the future of support for the Pixy product. Those still interested in buying the $230 device can still purchase it as of this writing.

Nevertheless, as the entire app ecosystem has felt the advertising pinch of Apple’s new privacy policies, Snap appears to be responding by focusing on its fundamentals: Snapchat and its other software innovations. That leaves possibly expensive experiments like Pixy, that could take time to develop into a profit-generating product, on the sidelines for now.