If you found this week's GoPro Hero 12 Black launch a little underwhelming, you weren't alone. It's one of the smallest updates to the action camera series we've seen and even lacks staple features like GPS. But fortunately, GoPro does have something more exciting up its sleeve – it's revealed a successor to the GoPro Max is "in the works", and that's very good news for anyone who wants a next-gen action cam.
Unfortunately, GoPro hasn't elaborated on when exactly we'll see the GoPro Max 2 (which is its confirmed name) and its 360-degree shooting powers. The only thing that CEO Nick Woodman said during the Hero 12 Black launch event was: "There is an enormous interest in the next version of Max. And what I can confirm today is that it is in the works and it will be worth the wait".
That's not a lot to go on, but we'll definitely take it. It's almost four years since the GoPro Max was announced, so we'd nearly given up hope of seeing a sequel to one of the best 360 cameras. In that time, Insta360 has eaten GoPro's lunch with the launch of polished rivals like the Insta360 X3, which is probably the most fun camera you can buy right now.
So the prospect of a GoPro Max 2 is a genuinely exciting one if the camera can deliver on its promise. And what is that promise? A waterproof, go-anywhere camera that can capture your adventures without needing to be pointed in any particular direction – and one that can then deliver an automated highlights reel of your trip that's ready for social media.
Whether or not the incoming Max is capable of achieving that is another matter, but that's what we saw flashes of in some GoPro patent applications in July 2022. Those patents included descriptions of a processor with a "context component" that can analyze the context of a scene and adjust the "viewing window" (in other words, what you see during video playback), plus the final framing of the video accordingly.
That concept isn't new – we've seen it before with Insta360's AutoReframe feature, which creates an automatic edit of your 360 video. GoPro's own Quik mobile app also has an Auto Highlight feature for GoPro Subscribers, but this is only for traditional 'flat' videos from its Hero Black series.
GoPro's incoming Quik desktop app (which will land on Mac on November 1, and on Windows in "Summer 2024") will, though, have this Auto Highlight feature. And it will also presumably, when the Max 2 arrives, also handle the 'reframing' edits that Insta360's Studio software does so well.
Given it's been almost four years since the current Max, we're expecting some pretty big hardware upgrades on the Max 2. It should get some better sensors (maybe two of the 1/1.7in ones seen on Hero 12 Black), plus 5K/60p video and, almost certainly, GoPro's latest GP2 processor (or maybe even a GP3).
But the hardware is really the easy bit – when it comes to 360 cameras, it's the software that really makes the experience, because being able to 'point' your camera in any direction after you've shot the video (the main benefit of 360 cameras) can also quickly become an overwhelming experience.
If GoPro manages to nail that part of the equation this time, the Max 2 could finally be the action cam and Insta360 alternative we've been waiting several years for.
Analysis: The action cam's next adventure
GoPro recognized the potential of 360 cameras back in 2017 when it announced the original Fusion, so why has it taken so long to develop the Max 2? It's probably partly down to GoPro's decision to simplify its product lineup a few years ago after it had overextended itself with the GoPro Karma drone.
But action cam fans need a Max 2 now more than ever. While traditional action cams are hitting their evolutionary limit, we were hoping for a bit more from the Hero 12 Black. Still, if that means GoPro's been pouring more of its enthusiasm into the Max 2, we might just forgive it.
Smartphones like the iPhone 14 now offer features like Action Mode – and while we don't think that mode can quite match the convenience of a GoPro, it's close enough to leave many people understandably questioning whether or not they need an action cam.
Action cameras need to offer a unique trick that you can't get on your smartphone – and 360-degree shooting is that trick. The ability to shoot everything around you simultaneously means 360 cams are capable of some super-impressive visual tricks, while being among the most versatile cameras around. If the Max 2 brings the kind of polish GoPro built its name on, it could finally be a new model to get excited about.