What’s the top factor that drone pilots consider when making the decision to buy a new drone? While price does play into it, it’s far from the top factor in buyers’ purchasing decisions. It turns out, the most important factor for pilots buying a new drone is reliability.
That’s according to the DroneAnalyst 2020 Drone Market Sector Report, which asked 1,300 drone industry participants spread across 110 countries their habits, decisions and opinions on a variety of drone-related subjects, via an online survey. Survey respondents were asked to select up to three of their most important criteria when deciding to make a drone purchase decision, and reliability came out on top.
Here were the top three factors that people said they consider when purchasing a drone:
- Flight time
Of course, price is still a factor — and No. 3 most important at that.
“Drones already provide value but organizations need to get units out there to expand operations safely, reliably and in ways that don’t require heavy investments,” wrote Drone Analyst’s Head of Research David Benowitz in a blog post on his site. “This last emphasis on cost is critical when considering that drone programs have primarily begun from the bottom of an organization instead of from heavy management buy-in (and spending).”
That’s good news for companies trying to compete with Chinese drone-making giant DJI. DJI’s ecosystem is enormous, and it’s found a way to efficiently scale. And with that, its prices are the lowest you’ll find of high-quality drones.
The problem: many companies that have tried to build their own drones say part of the reason they can’t compete is because DJI’s prices are just so low. The company’s latest beginner-focused drone, the Mini 2, is less than $500 despite incredible specs such as ability to shoot 4K video, 31 minutes of flight time and a high-grade positioning and vision sensors that enable the drone to hover in one place.
Relatedly, most drone companies say are willing to spend more this year. 88% of respondents in a DroneDeploy survey of commercial drone operators said they expect to increase or maintain their spend on drone operations in 2021.
It seems as though price is just not the roadblock when it comes to deciding what drone to buy: it’s reliability. But there are also some other interesting factors that customers consider when buying drones:
Flight automation capabilities
Only 31% of drone pilots said they would consider “flight automation capabilities” as one of their top three factors in purchasing a drone. Of course, autonomy is the literal definition of a drone, but many drones have varying degrees of autonomy.
DJI made a giant breakthrough in 2016 when it launched the DJI Phantom 4, which was the first consumer drone to have the ability to sense and avoid obstacles. That marked a huge leap in preventing drone crashes. Since then, sensors have become ubiquitous on almost all of DJI’s new drones.
And also since then, competitors have tried to one-up DJI. Notably, the American-made Skydio 2 is equipped with six, 200-degree color cameras so it can see everything in every direction — theoretically never crashing. It costs $999.
Beyond just sense and avoid, though, it seems like customers don’t prioritize other autonomous flight features such as video programming, as highly as something like price. DJI has put a lot of effort into developing autonomous flight programming for better video capture. Its latest drone, the DJI Air 2S, not only has four-way directional obstacle sensors, but also advanced cinematography features like MasterShots, which uses automatic flight path planning to set the drone’s course while recording video. There’s also FocusTrack, which includes pre-programmed modes like Spotlight 2.0, ActiveTrack 4.0 and Point of Interest 3.0 — all of which allow your drone to autonomously fly in directions that make your videos look just as advanced as those from a professional video operator.
For what it’s worth, a 2020 study proved that most drone pilots prefer manual flights (meaning they want their hands on the controller) than fully autonomous flights anyway.
Trust in the brand
And another standout answer in the survey is the 4th-most highly ranked answer: trust in the brand. That comes at a time when DJI has been in the hot seat for a number of reasons. Some drone pilot ‘hipsters’, if you will, are seeking alternative companies over concerns that the DJI market share (which is still an enormous ~70%, despite having slightly dropped over the past year) is too great. Recent anti-Chinese sentiment (in the drone industry and beyond) has led buyers to want to purchase from American drone companies. It didn’t help that the U.S. government has added DJI to a list of companies on its restricted trade list.
“While industry outsiders may see this as a weak point for DJI due to their Entity List addition, the state of competitors mean that customers’ second or third choice are often younger companies with unproven capabilities,” Benowitz wrote.
‘Young companies with unproven capabilities’ has led to situations like the Lily drone debacle. In that saga, a hugely-hyped Kickstarter drone never delivered, before finally getting acquired and made by another company, but with none of the cool features originally promised.
For customers concerned about getting burned by situations like the Lily drone, DJI is a much better bet. And putting together reliability with the other four primary purchasing factors for drones, it’s clear why the DJI monopoly is real.
“DJI offers and continuously releases new products that have a better price, performance and accessibility than nearly everything out there,” Benowitz wrote. “At the same time, many competitors have struggled to deliver or catch up. It is easy to pin the blame for the market’s underperformance against forecasts or general size on DJI, but no competitor has done better.”