Wow–no sooner do I publish a story bemoaning the diminished state of the once-proud Polaroid name than the news breaks that jWIN (owners of the sorta-well-known iLuv brand) are licensing the right to make Polaroid stuff. The company plans to offer “peripherals for PC’s, console games, mobile phones, audio/video as well as telephones, certain laptop carrying cases and cleaning care accessories.” The first time I see a Polaroid phone or laptop bag, I’m going to shed a silent tear. But I guess they’re not as undignified as Bell + Howell pest repellers…
Tag Archives | Polaroid
I never expected to write as much about Polaroid cameras as I have at Technologizer, but the little guys continue to make more news than some gadgets which are still in production. Dazed Digital is reporting that the Polaroid preservers at The Impossible Project have saved 700 old-stock One600 cameras and will be selling them, along with film, through Urban Outfitters stores, starting tomorrow. (Urban Outfitters’ outlets may be primarily devoted to funky clothing and household knickknacks, but they’ve developed an entertaining sideline selling exotic, retro film cameras such as the Diana, making them a more logical venue for Polaroid sales than a real camera store–they already sell Fuji’s modern instant camera.)
Urban Outfitters will also have some additional old-stock Polaroid film on hand, but if you buy a One600 you’re buying into a format that’s already defunct. (The Impossible Project is trying to restart production of instant film–I wish them luck, but they named themselves appropriately.) Despite that, I’m tempted to pick one up tomorrow. No word on how much they’ll go for.
Maybe it’s because I consider the SX-70 one of the very greatest gadgets ever invented. Or perhaps it’s because I grew up a few miles from the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. Whatever the reason, I feel protective about the Polaroid brand–and boy, am I sorry to see what’s happened to it over the past few years.
To recap: In 2001 Polaroid went bankrupt. In 2002, the brand was acquired by a company called the Petters Group, which proceeded to slap it on DVD players, TVs, and other products that had nothing to do with the company’s proud heritage in instant photography (as well as a few that did, such as digital cameras). Petters later bought Polaroid outright for $426 million. In 2007, Polaroid stopped making instant cameras, and in 2008 it announced plans to stop making film for its old cameras in 2009. In 2008, it became known that Petters founder Tom Petters was the subject of a federal investigation for massive financial fraud. Then Polaroid went bankrupt again.
And yesterday, Polaroid was sold again, this time for a measly $88 million to a joint venture that owns other distressed brands such as the Sharper Image and Linens ‘n Things. One of the partners said this about Polaroid:
Polaroid is an iconic brand known globally for their technical innovation and high-quality products that deliver on its reputation of ease-of-use.
Very true. But another exec added:
The Polaroid brand has immense global appeal that translates into almost all categories,…This is a terrific opportunity to unlock Polaroid’s brand value and transform its multi-channel platform of diverse and unique consumer products using leading technologies and trend-setting innovations.
Which I fear is corporate doublespeak for “We’re going to continue to license the name out for use on all sorts of consumer electronics products, most of which are commodity items which have nothing to do with the qualities that made this a great company decades ago.”
You gotta think that the late Edwin Land, Polaroid’s founder, is deeply sad if he’s out there somewhere, watching what’s become of his brainchild. (He died in 1991, after Polaroid’s golden age but before it became absolutely clear that chemistry-based instant photography didn’t have a future, and neither did Polaroid as an independent, inventive entity.) Here’s a great story from a 1972 issue of TIME that makes clear that Land was one of the greatest tech CEOs ever–a sort of combination of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who thrived for decades and was also a philanthropist of note.
There is one exception to the generally dismal fate of the Polaroid name: It’s being used on photo printers and digital cameras that incorporate the printing technology developed by Zink, a Boston-area startup that’s full of Polaroid veterans. At least it’s a genuinely innovative idea that brings the original idea behind Polaroid photography into the 21st century. But I wonder if there’s an alternate universe somewhere in which digital photography was invented at Polaroid, and the company is doing better than ever?
Back in February, the modern-day Polaroid company announced that it was ceasing production of instant film, thereby bringing an end to the business that made Polaroid Polaroid. It was a sad day for what was once one of the coolest consumer technologies going, and when I blogged a heartfelt tribute a lot of folks chimed in with their own memories.
Polaroid photography is, I’m sorry to say, still dead. Permanently, probably. But I’m tickled to report that instant photography is back, in the form of Fujifilm’s Instax 200 camera. Yup, a camera of the sort that takes film and spits out photos that develop as you watch.
Fuji says that its heard from police officers, real estate agents, healthcare providers, and others who have grown panicky over the dwindling supplies of Polaroid film, and so the company is rolling out the Instax in the U.S. for the first time. Fuji’s system isn’t Polaroid-compatible, but it’s very much Polaroidesque. The camera is $69.99; a 20-pack of film is $28.99. Both will be available in December.
I’m curious just what sort of cops, realtors, and doctors are still using Polaroid cameras, and whether they have rational explanations for ignoring the digital photography revolution which has been underway for a decade or so. If they’re merely hardcore luddites, that’s okay with me. But I was reminded of one virtue of instant photography recently when I had a passport photo taken: The photographer used a digital camera, and it took him ten minutes to download the photo, process it, and print it out. For all of digital photography’s profound usefulness, it’s not as instant as instant photography is.
One side note: Fuji’s Instax announcement comes just days after Japan’s Tomy announced a digital camera with a built-in photo printer. The Tomy product sounds intriguing–but it’s no more magical than the original instant camera that Polaroid founder Edwin Land released back in 1948. This is probably sacrilegious in the extreme, but I think it’s possible that Dr. Land would be happy to know that Fuji revived instant photography after Polaroid did its best to bump it off.