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Is Polaroid back from the dead?
The pre-digital-era instant photography icon is launching a chain of Apple-like stores to help Hipstamatic and Instagram addicts print their pics
The Polaroid Fotobar store: A novel idea for the digital age developed by the people who revolutionized instant photos.
The Polaroid Fotobar store: A novel idea for the digital age developed by the people who revolutionized instant photos. Facebook.com/Polaroid

"It's been a long fall for Polaroid," says Will Oremus at Slate. The pioneer of instant photography slept through the digital-photography revolution, went bankrupt, tried to come back to life, and went bankrupt again in recent years. Polaroid has tried unsuccessfully to reinvent itself with "a succession of generally awkward new products, like a 'smart camera' that doubles as an Android phone." This week, however, the company unveiled "a new idea so simple and natural that it just might work." Polaroid is partnering up with a startup called Fotobar to open a chain of retail stores where customers will be able to upload images from their smartphones, fiddle with them on computers, and then print them out as art, on anything from archival paper to bamboo.

The idea has obvious appeal in an era when most of our best pictures live only on the screen. Of course there are other options for printing out hard copies, including Walgreens. But Fotobar is aiming higher, with dedicated retail outlets that sport an Apple Store-like layout and well-trained employees to help customers through the editing process...

There's a good chance the project will ultimately go bust. But I hope that doesn't happen before I get the chance to try one out. Having lost its way in a high-tech world, Polaroid is going back to "high touch." If it succeeds, the company will have pulled off a feat that few foresaw: returning to relevance in the age of Instagram. [Slate]

Polaroid might very well have hit on a formula to bring itself back from the grave, says Paula Bernstein at Fast Company. Roughly 1.5 billion pictures are taken every day — most with camera phones — but most never get printed out, says Fotobar founder and CEO Warren Struhl. Polaroid hopes to open its first outlet, in Delray Beach, Fla., in February, with 10 more around the country by year's end, to give amateur shutterbugs a way to set their images free, but there's a catch. Some Fotobar products will be made promptly on site, but many will have to be shipped from company manufacturing facilities, and that could take 72 hours.

That's a far cry from the immediate gratification long associated with Polaroid. Back when it could take up to a week or more to get your photos developed, "Polaroid was unique. Polaroid did what no one else had ever done. It provided instant gratification," says Christopher Bonanos, author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid.

The Fotobar idea may provide a social experience, but it doesn't deliver instant gratification. Polaroid Fotobar stores aspire to create a unique experience that's less about just printing photos and more like entertainment. [Fast Company]

Polaroid is "borrowing a page from the Apple playbook" here, says Tim Barribeau at Popular Photography, hoping to revive its fortunes by using "these 'experiential' stores" to create a fun, hip new place where consumers hooked on Instagram, Hipstamatic, and social media in general can go to give their cool pics a life outside their smartphones. It's a "risky move," though. If it doesn't work, Polaroid could merely succeed in making itself the poster child for the decline of photo printing in general.

I can see the appeal of being in a city, capturing an incredibly fun shot with your friends on Instagram, and then popping in to a store like this to get a few copies printed to share. But having to wait for them to print and assemble them somewhere else and get them shipped to your house? It kills some of the spontaneity and magic of mobile photography. [Popular Photography]

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