Technologizer posts about Polaroid

Polaroid news! PCWorld’s Robert S. Anthony reports on the new Z340, a new digital camera from Polaroid that, more than any of its previous digicams, hearkens back to its instant-photography glory days. It not only spits out prints, but can make them look like classic Polaroids, complete with the off-center white border.

Posted by Harry at 12:04 pm

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I’m reporting in from New York City and am delighted to report that when I return home to San Francisco this evening, I’ll be toting an award with me. At yesterday’s MIN Editorial & Design Awards ceremony, “Polaroid’s S-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible,” an article I wrote in June, won for best online feature.

We were in distinguished company–other publications which were honored included TIME (yay!), Sports Illustrated, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and Better Homes and Gardens.  And The Rotorian won in an amazing ten categories.

You can read more about the awards and see the complete list of winners here.




Posted by Harry at 9:34 am


Over at the New York Times, Christopher Bonanos has a nice piece comparing Steve Jobs to the entrepreneur/technologist he resembles most by far: Polaroid’s Edwin Land. Bonanos says that virtually none of the Jobs obituaries mentioned Land, but I remembered to do so in my piece for TIME–in the third paragraph, in fact. And last June, when I wrote about Polaroid’s SX-70 camera, I found the Land/Jobs parallels so compelling that they threatened to take over the article.

Posted by Harry at 8:17 pm


How Polaroid Failed to Introduce the Kindle in the Mid-1940s

By  |  Posted at 12:12 am on Monday, June 13, 2011

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Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush (1890-1974) is justly famous for his 1945 Atlantic essay “As We May Think.” It proposes a device called a memex which bears an uncanny resemblance to a personal computer connected to the World Wide Web–or at least as close as anyone could come five decades before the Web changed the world.

As described in the Atlantic article, the memex was the size of a desk. But Bush also had an idea for a portable microfilm reader–which sounds like it would have been to the Kindle as the memex was to the PC–and tried to convince Edwin Land, cofounder of Polaroid, to help him build it. That’s one of the innumerable interesting things about Polaroid which I learned but couldn’t fit into my story “Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible.”

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Remember Polaroid? That Company That Made Unsanitary 3D Glasses?

By  |  Posted at 9:32 am on Friday, June 10, 2011

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In “Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible,” I had a lot to say about a single fascinating Polaroid camera. But almost everything Polaroid did was fascinating, and it didn’t all involve instant photography. I came across a lot of stuff that didn’t fit into the SX-70 story. Such as this…

Before Edwin Land invented the instant camera, he invented synthetic polarizers. He realized in the 1930s that one application of the technology would be 3D movies, but it wasn’t until 1952 that the idea took off–and only briefly at the time.

In its May 16th 1953 issue, the New Yorker published a story  on Polaroid’s 3D glasses and concerns over whether they were unsanitary. Polaroid had been selling instant cameras for five years at that point, but they didn’t merit a mention in the story–Land was apparently still more famous as the polarizer guy.

If you replaced the references to Polaroid with RealD and the one to Bwana Devil with, say, Thor, you could practically republish this story today. Fifty-eight years later, people are still freaking out over germy 3D glasses and figuring out ways to disinfect them.

And hey, I just learned that Polaroid Eyewear–a separate company from the current version of the Polaroid that sells photography-related stuff, but descended from the original Polaroid–is selling 3D glasses all over again.

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Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible

A man, a company, and the most wildly ambitious consumer-electronics device of its era.

By  |  Posted at 3:00 am on Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Polaroid co-founder Edwin Land with an SX-70 and an SX-70 snapshot in his Cambridge, Massachusetts office on November 1st, 1972. Photo: Joyce Dopkeen/Getty Images

What makes a gadget great? You might argue that it’s determined at least in part by how many lives the product in question touches. Back in 2005, when I helped choose a list of the fifty greatest gadgets of the past fifty years, we ranked the Sony Walkman as #1 and Apple’s iPod as #2. Fabulous gizmos both; I suspect, however, that they wouldn’t have topped the list if they hadn’t been bestsellers of epic proportions.

The SX-70–specifically, the SX-70 which I bought at an antique store in Redwood City, California in April of 2011.

But greatness isn’t a popularity contest–not primarily one, at least. Maybe it has more to do with the concept expressed by Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: making technology indistinguishable from magic. By that measure, I can’t think of a greater gadget than the SX-70 Land Camera, the instant camera that Polaroid introduced in April 1972. We ranked the SX-70 eighth on that 2005 list, but the sheer magnitude of its ambition and innovation dwarfs the Walkman, iPod, and nearly every other consumer-electronics product you can name.

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The conventional wisdom at the moment about Steve Jobs’ medical leave seems to be that Apple is in solid shape to flourish indefinitely without him. Here’s an interesting opposing view from my friend Phil Baker (who’s guest-blogging for Jim Fallows at the Atlantic).  Phil draws a comparison between Apple and Edwin Land’s Polaroid–and he has every right to do so, having worked both for Apple after Jobs left the first time and for Polaroid in the Land era.

Posted by Harry at 5:41 pm


This Dumb Year: The 57 Lamest Tech Moments of 2010

For high-profile flops, strange decisions, pointless lawsuits, and general weirdness, it's been a very good year.

By  |  Posted at 1:33 am on Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Progress–to swipe an ancient General Electric slogan–is the technology industry’s most important product. Its second-most important product? That’s easy: blunders. In fact, you could argue that the two are inextricably intertwined. An industry that was more uptight about making mistakes might be more cautious and therefore less inventive.

It’s also sometimes difficult to tell where progress ends and blunder begins, or vice versa. If you believe that Google Wave was a bad idea in the first place, you might think it was smart of Google to kill it this year–but if you thought Wave had promise, then it’s Google’s early cancellation that’s the gaffe.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that while the industry’s lame moments are…well, lame, they can also be important. Last year, I summed up a decade’s worth of tech screw-ups and came up with 87 examples. This time around, I’m covering only a single year–but I found 57 items worth commemorating. No, tech companies aren’t getting more error prone; I was just more diligent. And as usual, there was plenty of ground to cover.

Thanks once again to Business 2.0′s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business and, of course, to Esquire’s Dubious Achievement Awards for inspiring this. Here we go…

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The more you love Polaroid, the sadder it is to see its name slapped on products like this.

Posted by Harry at 1:26 pm


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

Posted by Harry at 11:40 am


Polaroid Cameras Are Back! Briefly!

By  |  Posted at 10:23 am on Thursday, August 20, 2009

1 Comment

Saved PolaroidI 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.

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Polaroid: A Great Name Taken in Vain

By  |  Posted at 3:27 pm on Friday, April 17, 2009


Edwin Land With SX-70Maybe 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?


The Unexpected Return of Instant Photography

By  |  Posted at 11:27 pm on Thursday, November 13, 2008


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.


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