Arlo Ultra: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Awesome
Arlo Technologies’ new flagship security camera - Arlo Ultra encapsulates the awesome progress and innate challenges that a lot of smart home manufacturers face at the moment. Let’s review the history of Arlo cameras and how Arlo Ultra came to us.
Rock Solid Start
Back in 2014 Netgear revolutionized the outdoor smart home security market by introducing its then ground-breaking Arlo HD. Netgear had hit a gold mine and quickly build the Arlo brand into a company generating $472 million per year. Arlo HD and its successor model Arlo Pro were so widely successful that Netgear decided to spin out its Arlo brand into an independently listed entity. Arlo Technologies went public in August 2018 at whopping $22 per share.
Soon after that, Arlo felt the heat of investors’ intense scrutiny, public market fluctuations, and the competition that its explosive growth had attracted. Since the introduction of the Arlo HD, a wide variety of other outdoor cameras has been introduced leveling the playing field of the security camera market.
On the pricier end of the spectrum, Arlo was up against Nest’s wired outdoor cameras, the Nest Cam Outdoor, and Nest Cam Outdoor IQ. In the medium-budget-space, Ring introduced its Stick Up Cam Battery and Spotlight Cam battery. Simultaneously, a large number of battery powered cameras for budget-conscious customers, most notably Blink, started to erode Arlo’s dominant position.
Soon after, the smart home market consolidated due to Amazon’s desire to dig into the new home security market using its mighty Alexa voice platform. In short succession, Amazon acquired Ring - the maker of video doorbell and outdoor cameras - and Blink - the low-budget manufacturer of battery-powered outdoor cameras.
Given the competitive pressure from low-cost brands like Blink, many a 2nd and 3rd tier Chinese manufacturers as well as Ring’s virtually unlimited resources (thanks to Jeff), Arlo’s management concluded that the only way forward was to move further upmarket, out-invent the competition, and develop the most advanced battery-powered outdoor security camera on the market - the Arlo Ultra.
A Rocky Launch
Arlo Ultra was the first product launch after Arlo became a public company in August 2018. Originally, the camera was scheduled to be released in Q4 2018 - just in time for the crucial holiday season, but it was off to a rocky start due to charging and discharging problems of the Ultra batteries, therefore the final release date had to be pushed back into Q1 2019.
Let’s call a spade a spade, the launch was crushing failure … and what made it even worse was that the IPO price of $22 was based on Alro Ultra launching in time for Christmas. Some investors alleged that Arlo knew about the impending delay before the IPO and deliberately mislead investors about the prospect of releasing the Ultra camera on time. What followed was a class action lawsuit and Arlo share price plummeted from $22 to $10 by the end of 2018.
With a new shipment date scheduled in Q1 2019, Arlo was aiming for a fresh start and, to pacify its largest retail partner, Arlo Ultra was going to be launched exclusively in Bestbuy stores ahead of the official release date on Bestbuy.com and Amazon.
Hitting The Rocks
In January 2019 - the first shipment of Arlo Ultras hit the Bestbuy shelves and caused an uproar among customers: This premium priced cameras system (the most affordable variation retails for $400 for a single camera) was buggy. Early adopters complained about faulty hardware as well as error-prone software. The problem was so widespread that Arlo decided to pull it off the shelves and reset the product launch a second time. As customers’ expectations were shattered, in February 2019 Arlo’s stock hit rock bottom at $4 per share (still remember the IPO price of $22?).
At this point, almost all major Arlo stakeholders were deeply disappointed. Retailers complained about the delays and buggy products, IPO investors felt they have been misled, and stock-owning employees saw the value of their shares shrunk by 75% in less than half a year.
At the end of Q1 2019, Arlo Ultra was finally released to the public. As was to be expected the firmware was a little unpolished but, by and large, the third attempt to release the product was a success.
Does Arlo Ultra rock?
When reviewing the Arlo Ultra and its features, most technology enthusiasts are generally fairly positive. Arlo Ultra’s hardware feels and looks amazing, the polished craftsmanship is absolutely superb since so much thought went into the industrial design - take as an example the partial release of the camera battery compartment.
Another great feature is the 180-degree wide angle lens that allows users to surveil a much bigger area than other camera models offer. Finally, other great features of the Arlo Ultra are the enhanced night vision (now you can see color footage at night), the integrated spotlight and, of course, the most touted feature of the camera is its unique 4K HDR image quality.
On the other side, these premium features sometimes entail some problems - for example, 4K streaming can take up a lot of bandwidth, so it may not mesh well with your Wi-Fi setup if the connection is patchy. The lack of seven-day free cloud storage Arlo offers on its other cameras is not available with the Ultra. Some other downsides are the limitation to log in on one camera at a time and the requirement of Adobe Flash.
Another area that has been criticized is the expensive monthly subscriptions that go from 9.99 to 14.99 dollars per month plus 1.99 dollars per camera on a monthly basis for premium resolution recording. However, this is still cheaper than the 30 dollars per month of Nest for 30 days subscription. Arlo Ultra also lacks any of the free storage that Blink offers.
How to save on Arlo Ultra?
Due to the versatile use cases of the camera, accessory purchases from Arlo can make up to 30-40% of the cost of the camera system. Given a price tag between $400-800, this is a considerable chunk of money. However, very much to Arlo’s displeasure and to the delight of Arlo users, smart home manufacturers like Wasserstein have been offering high-quality Arlo accessories since the days of the Arlo HD at a better value.
If you have set your mind to acquire some of these state-of-art smart outdoor security systems, another way to save is by purchasing camera sets with accessories as bundles.
With its new Arlo Ultra line, Arlo Technologies has set out to delight its users again and has largely succeeded. It remains to be seen if this and successive product launches such as the Arlo Video Doorbell, will be enough to restore the eroded trust of customers and investors.