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Will DJI release FPV drone at the CES?

The CES is right around the corner. This year, it will run from January 11-14, and as a virtual-only event. Nonetheless, it will still be the biggest tech show on the planet. And that made us wonder: Might this be the venue where DJI chooses to unveil its new FPV drone?

There’s always interest when DJI is going to release a new product. Certainly we’re most interested in the drones. And, we have to say, the amount of interest around DJI’s forthcoming entry into the FPV world is phenomenal. People are incredibly interested in this product, and we’ve seen a lot of people in forums say they’ll be onboard to buy the combo package at its expected $1,500 retail price. Though we’ve seen some in the pro FPV community give it the stink-eye, other pro pilots say they’d like to give this thing a spin.

The big question, though, is when we will see a release.

Could the FPV drone be released at CES 2021?

Well, yeah. Sure it could. Pandemic or no pandemic, it’s the world’s largest gathering of manufacturers, retailers, and others in the tech supply chain. With tons of media attending, this is the event where plenty of products are launched. So would it make sense?

Sooooo close. And yet sooooo far.

Sort of. While it’s the CES, it’s not going to be like a regular CES. The displays will be virtual, and that’s not quite the same as being able to speak to someone in person and put eyes on the gear. But still, it’s the biggest game in town. In any town.

“Every year, CES is a new opportunity to show our latest products,” DJI senior communications manager Patrick Santucci told CES. “It’s a chance to give potential clients hands-on time with the product and show the value of the investment.”

Plus, DJI has launched products previously at the CES, right?

Well, sort of. In 2019, at its sixth CES, DJI released its Smart Controller. While a significant product, it’s not as big as the launch of a drone. And there, with the exception of some Enterprise models, DJI has tended to plan its own releases for these. It held events in New York for its Mavic Pro launch and Los Angeles for its Inspire 2. The Mavic Air 2 and Mini 2 launches were held by DJI on its own.

And so…?

Well, we’d really like DJI to get this drone out into the world, because we’re incredibly excited to see the thing. But that’s just wishful thinking.

The CES, were it taking place as an actual physical convention, really would be a great venue and the timing would fit, given that we’re seeing leaks now of a fully finished product. But this is not a regular year. And certainly, for DJI, 2019 did not end like a regular year.

DJI's FPV drone released next year
Come to Papa, baby…

The Entity List factor

In late December, as many of you know, the US Commerce Department placed DJI on its Entity List. That sanction prevents the transfer of technology from the US to DJI, which will disrupt some widgets in its supply chain. We don’t know whether any of those widgets are related to the FPV drone and so won’t hazard a guess.

What we can say is that being named to the Entity List likely threw DJI into a bit of a frenzy last month. Whether that tumult was big enough to bump the release date of the new FPV drone, we can’t say. But it would not surprise us if many front-burner items were pushed to the back so the company could fully assess the implications of the US move.

We suspect this odd angle is actually a stable hover…

Plus, as stated, we don’t know if there are any supply chain issues that impact the production of the FPV drone, the goggles (rumored to be updated), or its controller. All it would take is a US-made component or two to really jam things up until a non-US manufacturer is secured as an alternate supplier.

The Chinese New Year factor

That’s the other big hiccup here. Chinese New Year is a very big deal. Literally hundreds of millions of people are on the move in what is the largest annual mass migration of human beings on the planet. This year the actual day of the Lunar New year falls on Friday, February 12. But that means the week before — and the week after — are pretty disrupted and not an ideal time for a launch.

Factor into that the importance of the domestic market in China. DJI sells a lot of drones inside China, and a launch in the midst of the year’s biggest holiday wouldn’t make sense.

Our best guess?

We really, really would like to see this drone hit the stores by the end of January. Based on what we’ve seen in terms of the product, that would seem a reasonable guess.

But there’s also, at least based on what we’ve seen on our site and in forums, a massive amount of interest in this product. If DJI pushes it out with insufficient stock, consumers get frustrated. We saw this with the Mavic Pro (although it was perhaps released prematurely to take the wind out of GoPro’s Karma launch), and with the original DJI goggles.

Dear DJI: Please release this asap…

So we’re going to predict that the earliest we’ll see this released is by the end of January, with a caveat that it’s quite likely everything will be off until at least a week after Chinese New Year, which could push this to late February. In fact, late February just feels a little more probable.

As for the CES? Not likely this year. Plus, there’s enough media interest in this product that it would be hard to imagine that the CES would add significant leverage, especially in a virtual setting.