When the Chinese drone manufacturer DJI released the Phantom 1 in 2013, it literally changed our perspective of the world. Before the Phantom 1, aerial shots were reserved for expensive movie productions or photographers who could hire a pilot. But DJI’s Consumer drones made this angle available for hobbyists and small content creators alike. Ever since, cinematic aerial shots can be seen in everything from small documentaries to holiday videos and vlogs.
Consumer drones in China
China accounts for a significant share of the global consumer drone market. Popular video platforms, such as Bilibili or Youku, are filled with amateur videos that include aerial shots of China’s most scenic regions. Other segments of the consumer drone market includes toy quadcopters and first-person drones (FPV), however the most renowned product category is aerial photography drones. Photography drones have quickly become a staple for many Chinese hobby photographers. Despite being very convenient, even amateur UAV operation has entry barriers for budding areal photographers. Most drones require additional equipment, piloting skills, as well as knowledge of local laws and flights restrictions, creating obstacles for the further development of the consumer drone market.
By addressing technological limitations, drone manufacturers strive to overcome these obstacles and reach a broader audience. Early versions of consumer drones were chunky, and the controls were hard to use, especially for beginners, who make up the majority of users. Today, the software has improved significantly, helping operators take a stable shot and avoid obstacles, as well as avoiding no-fly zones. The recent iteration of DJI’s Spark even falls under the 250-gram weight limit which exempts it from registration with China’s aviation regulatory body (CAAC). As a result, drones continue to become more accessible.
Leaving the consumer segment behind
While consumer drones kickstarted the civilian drone industry, the market is shifting towards the commercial application of UAVs. Initially many technical limitations hindered a further application of drones beyond recreational use. However, advancements brought by the development of the consumer drone sectors also enabled advancements in the commercial drone industry. Drones have better software capabilities, higher-resolution cameras, and can carry heavier payloads. As a result, in recent years, the share of commercial UAVs in the Chinese drone market had increased continuously, reaching almost 50 percent by 2020.
Overall, DJI has cornered the consumer drones sector, but concerning commercial applications, the door is wide open for new companies. The drone maker, Shenzhen Drones, which specializes in agricultural aerial drones, has a global market share of around 80 percent and a domestic market share of approximately 70 percent. In addition to that, the consumer drone market is very narrow, because the application mostly revolves around aerial photography, limiting product diversification. In the commercial sector, however, the areas of applications are plentiful and give companies a chance to specialize. The most prevalent commercial applications in China include crop protection, power line inspection, and security applications.
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