Talking 360-Degree Action Cams With Ricoh's Wolken

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Ricoh pioneered the 360-degree action camera category with its Theta line of cameras in 2013 and Ricoh’s newest entrant, the Theta S, is currently the market leader in the category.

Now with the advent of the consumer virtual reality market, 360-degree cameras are expected play a vital role in expanding consumer interest (and, hopefully, sales) in the market.

TWICE asked Ricoh Imaging Americas’ marketing director Linnea Wolken to share some insight into the market potential of the 360 action cam market and Ricoh’s role in it.

TWICE: Ricoh’s Theta S came out in 2013, before there really was a 360-degree camera market. How has the category changed since then?
Wolken: Ricoh pioneered consumer 360-degree spherical cameras with its Theta. Ricoh recognized the consumer mass-market adoption potential for 360-degree imagery and entered the market early. This allowed us to refine our product, educate consumers and learn a lot about the market ourselves, including new uses for 360-degree images and videos.

Technology has advanced over the past few years to a point where there is now a flourishing “eco-system” that supports the 360-degree format. Google was one of the first to embrace it — and Ricoh worked closely with Google to launch the 360-degree Street View app — with YouTube’s support being critical. This was followed by Facebook, which has really driven worldwide interest.

TWICE: What are the disadvantages to being the first player in the market?
Wolken: Being first in any market requires you to be the educator and to drive awareness. Ricoh saw this as an opportunity, not a disadvantage. We’ve spent the past few years educating consumers, dealers and the industry on the capabilities and possibilities around 360-degree spherical images and videos.

TWICE: While there are a number of 360 cams on the market, consumer awareness is still pretty primitive. Will the advent of consumer virtual reality acceptance be a sparkplug for the 360 action cam market?
Wolken: There is so much more ahead for 360-degree imagery. Key to developing the market is the availability of additional software, sites and viewers that allow consumers and businesses to get the most out of their 360-degree content. The expansion and acceptance of VR will spur the growth of the 360-degree category. These technologies are intertwined, and both will grow exponentially.

To further market development and encourage innovation, Ricoh offers an open API that allows anyone to develop for Theta. In fact, Google developed its Street View app — which it announced when we launched Theta S — using our open API. It allows anyone to upload 360-degree content to Street View.

We currently are holding a developer’s contest for Theta … challenging developers around the globe to create apps that will push the boundaries.

TWICE: Who do you see as the ideal consumer, demographically, for the category?
Wolken: We’re now seeing Theta cameras in use by a broader range of individuals. Obviously, early adopters of technology and socially savvy millennials were among the first to embrace Theta, and these users skewed heavily male. When Facebook began supporting the 360-degree format, we started to see the demographic widen. Now just about every demographic is using it, from soccer moms to VR gamers to YouTubers. And there are a lot of applications for it in vertical markets, as well. Real estate and travel and tourism are especially obvious, but Theta is being used for interesting industrial applications, as well, including as a tool to help with the installation of solar panels.

TWICE: Is there a killer app, or a key functionality not yet available that could raise consumer demand for 360 cams?
Wolken: The increasing availability of new software and decreasing cost of compatible hardware — such as VR headsets — is critical. And making it easier and more accessible to share higher-resolution stills and videos is important. We’re really still at the infancy stage of the 360-degree evolution. We believe that every social site should, and soon will, support the 360-degree format.

TWICE:What are the biggest challenges in marketing 360 cams?
Wolken: This is a young, complex technology that is evolving rapidly. Understanding all it can do is probably the single greatest challenge. It was only a few short years ago that this technology was only available to a handful or organizations and costs tens of thousands of dollars.

TWICE: Will 4K be a major differentiator in the market?
Wolken: Everyone is asking about 4K, and it is on the horizon. However, with greater resolution, you are looking at a whole new set of challenges. The files sizes are huge, and working with them requires a great deal of time and patience with our current technology.

In short, 4K video cameras are in a similar position that HD cameras were 10 years ago. On the surface, 4K cameras aren’t much different from HD versions. They are pretty much operated in the same way, have similar settings and design. But every manufacturer does 4K a little differently, so there’s still a lot to learn. It’s on the horizon, but there are challenges that go along with that.

TWICE: Ultimately, do you see 360 photography as a niche consumer category or do you think it can gain traction in the enterprise market?
Wolken: Ricoh has always believed that its spherical imaging technology has many applications, both for consumers and businesses. In addition to consumer uses, Theta is being used in many business applications from location scouting and site surveys … to movie studios using them to increase engagement for upcoming movies … to professional sports teams for improving fan experiences. Theta’s use for virtual tours remains strong for real estate and travel, but also for automotive sales. We are also seeing a lot of growth in its use in the education market, as well, specifically for schools with a VR curriculum.


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