GoPro Hero 4 – How Camera is Dismantled and Becomes a Better Recorder for Actions

This week’s readings address modularity and modular design, which divides up a whole complex system into interconnected, self-contained systems [i]. Modularity, according to Universal Principles of Design, helps to decentralize the system architecture, and thus improves reliability, flexibility, and maintainability [ii]. Gradual innovations on the module level, or sometimes even the recombination of modules, could improve the user experience significantly [v]. Electronics nowadays tend to inbound more modules into the same gadget to make it more capable (such as smart phones – it is not only a communication tool, but with different modules combined, is also a camera, file handler, MP3, etc.). On the other hand, GoPro is doing the contrary. To some extend it is trying to dismantle a camera module and keeping only the most essential parts within the gadget, while externalizing the “not that necessary” modules. Here I would like to use GoPro Hero 4 as a case to examine the modularity principle.


Essential modules in GoPro Hero 4

Dessemply of GoPro Hero 4 from IFIXIT


This replacement guide shows us the hardware in GoPro. From the instructor’s level, essential modular in GoPro Hero 4 are [iii]:

  • “SuperView” Lens: focuses the light before it reaches the camera sensor, enabling the camera to take wide-angle pictures
  • Image Sensor: an optical device used to capture light and store the visual data into digital storage
  • Speaker: to record sounds
  • Motherboard: the brain of the camera, controlling all of its functions
  • Battery: to power the device
  • Port: to connect LCD devices, external battery packs, and other accessories
  • LCD Screen: show feedback once the user gives instructions


Externalize GUI – How it Becomes More Suitable for Activity Filming

One of the major differences between Hero 4 and a common digital camera is that Hero 4 does not have a built-in display system – there’s no screen, no eyepiece for the users to see the picture while taking it. It is designed and reduced to the core principle of a camera –  a sensor only to capture and record sounds and images.

The display system, which is embedded in most of the cameras, is externalized from Hero 4. This gadget is thus “remodualized” as a tinier one caters to the need of action sport lovers, as for them, recording the experiences is the deepest sense, and the display system would not be frequently used while users are doing outdoor sports. The removal of the screen makes Hero 4 a smaller and easier-to-attach camera than the normal ones, and also saves the battery so that it can be used for longer for one charge.

The externalized display system becomes the GoPro application, which users could easily access on any portable devices through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. GoPro app works as the Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the camera, and users could easily use it to control their GoPro, check out the shots or create clips. Moreover, as this external GUI can directly connect GoPro to the cell phone, it provides the users an easier approach to share the moments to social media, such as Instagram and Facebook, thus better connects them to the community they want to be a part of.


Introducing Capture App


Accessories – Flexible Design according to the Users’ Preference 

Following the basic structures-context-changes template, changes occur as a result of combinations and sequences of simple structures [v]. GoPro has also provided its users other add-on modules to improve the camera’s performance. For example, LCD BacPac shows the captured pictures directly, Drone enables users to take aerial photos, Karma Grip stabilizes the GoPro camera for capturing smooth videos, and also, with cases and mounts, GoPro is waterproofed, and could be attached to wherever the user want it to be [vi]. To some extend, GoPro camera could be seen as the most central piece of module in the whole GoPro system, while the add-on modules creates space for the users to personalize their own camera, thus adjustments and differences could be made by changing a piece of the system without redoing the whole.  

The notion of a core piece and add-on accessories not only helps the company to profit more, but more importantly, it invites users into the design process and build up their GoPro according to their own preferences and requirements. At this point, GoPro could be seen as a “just-embedded system”, that the modular innovation and recombination are encouraged by the visible design rules, and there are also space  for future system evolutions [iv].

One of the add-on accessories choices: the Drone




[i] Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers”.

[ii] Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.

[iii] “GoPro Hero4 Silver Repair.” IFixit. Accessed September 20, 2017.

[iv] Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.

[v] Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark, Design Rules, Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

[vi] “Gopro Homepage.” Accessed September 20, 2017.