Dropcam is a simple idea done really, really well. Where others see just a WiFi-enabled video camera that can be monitored remotely from companion Android, iPhone and iPad apps — apps that can facilitate push notifications for motion events — CEO Greg Duffy sees something akin to a home security relay.
At its core, he says, “Dropcam is based on the widespread idea of helping families.” Positioned as security or convenience camera — looking out towards the world, or in towards the home — Dropcam has a number of uses. The base cost of the hardware provides access to core software features — two-way talk, night vision, push alerts for movement — but with a subscription users can monitor and rewind video for between 7 and 30 days.
“We’re a software company, first and foremost,” says Duffy. “We want to launch solid hardware and let the experience get better and better after you buy it.” To that end, today the company launches Dropcam Pro, the second generation of its cloud-based video camera, with higher-quality video, better audio, a wider field of view and a sensor that’s twice as large.
Today also marks the first time Dropcam has sold its product outside of the United States and, like Sphero, Canada is its first and most natural expansion locale.
“People were finding ways of using Dropcam HD [the company’s first HD cloud camera] in Canada, either by getting a friend to buy one or going south themselves, so it made sense to expand to Canada first,” says Duffy. The Dropcam HD will serve as the company’s $159 entry-level product, while Dropcam Pro will sit at $219. Both go on sale today at Apple Stores and Amazon.ca, with Best Buy offering it in a couple of weeks.
The new iteration, Dropcam Pro, is such an improvement in video quality over its predecessor that it’s now possible to pinch-to-zoom on your iPhone, iPad or Android, without noticeable loss to the video quality. Low-light performance has also substantially improved.
The company recently overhauled its image, too, sprucing up its logo and redesigning its apps. Duffy figures these are the places you’re really going to be spending your time once the camera is installed, so why not make them look great? “Dropcam Pro is a big upgrade,” he says, “but ultimately we’re trying to improve the user experience.” Pro is filled with new technology that will facilitate the camera being the centre of the home at some point in the future. “We equipped Dropcam Pro with dual-band WiFi and, most importantly, Bluetooth LE, making it really easy to set up your camera with your smartphone.”
At the same time, Bluetooth LE will allow other devices, potentially with an open API at some point down the road, to communicate with Dropcam. Think the ability to use motion detection — which the company says is constantly improving, minimizing false alerts — with a service like IFTTT. Right now, Dropcam can send you an alert whenever motion is detected, but the company is working on ensuring those don’t happen too often.
“We hired a Computer Vision team and, over the last 18 months, have been figuring out how to teach Dropcam to learn a scene and let the user pick and choose what they’re interested in.” In other words, if your Dropcam is pointed towards an area of high traffic, Duffy wants it distinguish between movement that’s relevant to it — say someone walking up to the front door — and passersby moving by in the distance.
At the same time, no one is forced to pay for anything beyond the initial cost of the hardware. “The one rule of being a great freemium company,” says Duffy, “is to offer a great free service tier.” The only difference between paid subscribers and free users is the ability to store video for a certain amount of time. The hardware is not limited in any other way.
“Dropcam is a sustainable business,” says Duffy, pointing out that the subscription costs are meant to facilitate transfer of video streams orders of magnitude larger than YouTube. And it’s working: over 40% of buyers subscribe to one of the paid storage plans.
Dropcam HD and Dropcam Pro are now available in Canada, and is well worth the investment.