DJI is already flying high, much like a quadcopter on a calm, sunny day. Every new model meets with success. Newbies often get started with the Spark mini-drone or a foldable Mavic, while many pros and dedicated drone enthusiasts love the Phantom 4 Pro. Finally, the big one-inch CMOS image sensor on the Inspire 2 thrills filmmakers.
Given DJI's overall success, and more specifically, the success of the Phantom 4 series, it is easy to understand why there is so much speculation about a DJI Phantom 5. Whenever the next-gen Phantom arrives, I wonder whether it will simply improve on the already impressive Phantom 4 Pro or whether it will feature revolutionary technology.
It is also worth pondering whether DJI will introduce a single flagship model first or a series of models all at once. Either way, the Phantom 5 will certainly sell well in both the consumer and commercial markets. The latter includes important sub-categories like inspections, emergency response, cinematography, agriculture, construction and more.
Frank Wang started DJI in 2006 when he was a student at The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. Not surprisingly, DJI is headquartered in Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong.
Thus far, DJI's overall success has been nothing short of amazing. Overall, DJI sold about half of all North American drones.
Given all this success, just how much is the world's leading drone manufacturer worth? A $75 million investment by Accel Partners in 2015 yielded an estimated market valuation of $10 billion. Not bad for a company founded less than a decade earlier.
TIMING OF A DJI PHANTOM 5 LAUNCH
Given DJi's dizzying pace of new product launches, I'm wondering just when a Phantom 5 might launch. The Phantom 4 Pro arrived less than a year after the Phantom 4, and the sub-$500 Spark arrived soon thereafter in May 2017.
Given DJI's incredible run, I think you'll agree that it's not a matter of whether DJI will wow us again, it is just a matter of when. Perhaps a DJI Phantom 5 release date is only weeks or months away. Or, we might not see the next Phantom until well into 2018.
It's worth noting that an early winter launch would coincide with shorter days and colder temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere -- less ideal for flying. Also, the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) is in mid-February, making a February launch less likely.
Also, changing market conditions may delay the launch of the next Phantom. DJI's rapid fire introduction of new models over the last year or two was motivated in part by a desire to hit competitors hard. Given DJI's current market dominance, the company may very well take its time with a Phantom 5.
POTENTIAL PHANTOM 5 FEATURES
Whenever the next version does arrive, what improvements over the Phantom 4 Pro are possible? Let's take a look at key drone elements that might see anything from an upgrade to a revolutionary change in camera capabilities, flight times, speed and more.
The Phantom 4 Pro took a quantum leap forward in image quality, so it's fair to ask how a Phantom 5 could get that much better. Processing requirements are a hindrance beyond 4k image capture at 60fps.
Just as the images produced by DSLR cameras improved with the introduction of larger CMOS sensors, so too did image quality improve with the use of a much larger one-inch CMOS sensor on the Phantom 4 Pro. Indeed, its 20 megapixel resolution rivals that of many mid-range DSLR cameras. The large sensor provides for high-quality 60fps 4k video at a 100 Mbps bit rate. More processing power could further improve performance. The camera also offers a higher dynamic range and an enhanced ISO range (up to 12,500 in manual mode) for better low-light performance.
Flight times and speed
A drone's speed is related to flight time and vice versa. Any dramatic increase in either variable would require a breakthrough design that radically departs from the Phantom 4's basic architecture.
Of course, a technological breakthrough in battery design and performance would be welcomed. A lighter, more powerful battery could be a game changer.
It is also possible to improve performance with motors capable of doing more with less power and/or propellers that generate more lift with less effort.
Finally, I think there are a number of other enhancements that are at least possible on a version 5. A Phantom 5 might build on the success of the Phantom 4 with the introduction of retractable landing gear for 360-degree camera rotation without skids in the image. Also, foldable propellers would make it easier to transport. A new DJI Phantom 5 might also feature more flight modes and enhanced anti-collision capabilities.
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