New York - Value electronics supplier
revealed Tuesday that is diving into one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. camcorder business -- the action camera market -- with both feet.
Ion is launching the Ion Air Pro action camera with three model configurations (differentiated primarily by mounting systems) set to compete against the popular Go Pro line. The cameras are said to be easier to use, don't require waterproof cases, can be submerged to 30 feet, and have an option to add on functionality, such as Wi-Fi linking through interchangeable modules called Podz.
Like the Go Pro line, the cameras can be mounted on cars, helmets, surfboards or almost anything that takes the shooter into the heart of the action.
The company's global parent Ion Worldwide is directed by CEO and founder Giovanni Tomaselli, who has been developing and marketing lines of affordable CE devices for nearly 20 years under various licensing arrangements with Disney, Mattel and Polaroid.
He was also made a Harvard Business School case study after he took his own Che-ez digital camera brand to a top-five market share position in Japan, on the strength of a value price point and flashy color scheme that appealed to young Japanese females obsessed with children's icons like Big Bird and Hello Kitty.
Prior to relaunching Ion Worldwide, Tomaselli had sold the company to manufacturer Flextronics, staying on to run the ODM imaging division, which produced digital camera products for such major brands as Casio, Nikon, Polaroid and Kodak.
"In 2006, I took the Flextronics' imaging business from $120 million to $680 million in the first year," he said.
In 2007, he assumed the responsibilities for Flextronics' CE division and did $1.6 billion in production, working with brands including Sony (TVs), Microsoft (Zune), XM Radio, all of SanDisk's Cruzer products and CompactFlash cards, and others. In three years the company went from $15 billion to $34 billion, Tomaselli said.
But at the end of the day, Flextronics didn't have the appetite for the CE business that they thought they did, he said, and Tomaselli bought back his old company and the Ion brand for digital imaging products.
Now Tomaselli has turned his sights on the growing outdoor action camera market, where such brands as Go-Pro, Contour, Delkin, Liquid Image and Midland have staked a claim to the new outdoor video camera opportunity.
Tomaselli said the target is action-seeking young trendsetters eager to take their cameras literally anywhere, from the top of a ski slope to 30 feet underwater.
"I gave a brief to my team and said, â€˜I want a camera that has the smallest possible footprint and is best in class,' " Tomaselli said. "The consumer in this class is uncompromising. They are willing to pay, and they've proved it. The Go Pro camera was $299 at Christmas of 2009 and it is still $299."
He said the Ion Air Pro action cam is 20 percent lighter than Go Pro units and even lighter than Contour models. It features a vertical design that accepts unique back covers called Podz that snap in place on the back of the camera for a watertight seal to 30 feet.
Different Podz can be purchased for extended battery charge life or adding Wi-Fi linking capability to a smartphone or tablet device to present a live-view monitor or to see recorded images and video clips. The company is even planning one for an external Bluetooth mic system.
The camera's wide-angle lens records in 1080p HD video resolution (960p, 720p and WVGA options are available as well) with fields of view up to 170 degrees. Still pictures can also be captured in three models: one at a time; 10 in one burst; or one photo every 10, 20 or 30 seconds to created stop-motion video footage.
Ion America will offer the Ion Air Pro in five packages differentiated by mounting brackets or the addition of Wi-Fi capability.
The top-of-the-line Ion Air Pro Wi-Fi version ($350 suggested retail) includes a Wi-Fi Podz that enables users to shoot HD video and share it wirelessly to a mobile device via a free iPhone/iPad app. Users can share the content with friends and family through email or Facebook, or connect to a computer for additional options.
Apps are available today for any iOS device (Android devices will be supported later in the year, the company said). The camera ships with a CamLock mounting system that will secure the camera to bike handlebars and most summer and winter sports helmets.
The flexible locking system enables the camera to be rotated 360 degrees to capture subjects from almost any angle without the need to re-mount. The image automatically inverts if the camera is rotated upside down during action or mounting.
The app lets users create and manage content in albums, share video and photos to the Internet or Facebook, and store content in the Ion Cloud.
Every camera comes with 8GB of free storage at Ion Cloud, powered by MiMedia.com; additional capacity can be purchased as needed.
The camera also includes an easy-to-use top-mounted switch that lets the user know with a buzz that the camera is on and recording. A "REC" light will also illuminate to provide a visual signal that the camera is on.
Users of models without Wi-Fi can store images to a MicroSD card, up to 32GB in capacity.
The base Ion Air Pro carries a $230 suggested retail and includes a universal travel charger kit and a mini tripod.
The step-up configuration, called the Ion Air Pro Plus ($290 suggested retail), includes a bike- and helmet-mounting system in addition to the travel adapter.
The bike- and helmet-mounting system is also available in the aforementioned top-of-the-line Air Pro Wi-Fi kit.
Tomaselli said Ion will be taking the Ion Air Pro to market through sporting goods stores as well as CE and camera specialty retailers capable of selling the products' benefits. The company will used distributor Wynit to reach CE and camera dealers.
The company will promote the product through its website, through retail partners' stores and websites, and through social media. Plans are also in place for co-op advertising support, Tomaselli said.
Three extra add-on packages will also be available: a $50 surf mount (called the Board Kit), the $70 Helmet and Bike Kit, and a $100 Connect Kit that includes a Wi-Fi Podz and 1,800-milliamp battery booster.