The Death of Innovation at Polaroid

Dennis Faas's picture

There was a time in 1948 when Polaroid Corporation was the cocky, swaggering, technological king of the hill. In that year it introduced "instant" film development and in one terrible industrial instant, began a process that would result in the near-obsolescence of conventional film. However, just over 50 years later, Polaroid faced bankruptcy thanks to the digital camera.

Now, it seems, Polaroid wants to recapture those golden days by introducing instant digital image printing.

A Polaroid printer about the size of a PDA will produce dry-to-the-touch, business-card-sized color photographs from digital sources in a not-quite-so-instant 30 seconds. The printer will retail for about $150, and will accept images via Bluetooth or cable connection to cell phones or cameras. With 880 million camera phones expected to ship in 2008 and more than 478 billion photographs expected to be taken this year, it could be an interesting proposition. (Source:

However, it's hardly innovative.

The new printer doesn't even use Polaroid-produced technology. Instead it licenses a specialty paper produced by Zink Imaging. The paper, first introduced in early 2007, contains dye crystals which are activated by high temperatures in the printing device. The Zink (zero ink) technology, ironically, is created by Zink Imaging, a company founded by ex-Polaroid executives and scientists. A Zink photo is expected to cost substantially less than the $1 per photo of the Polaroid process. (Source:

How does that happen? How does an innovator become a simple reseller?

The original, innovative Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Its assets, including the name "Polaroid", were acquired in a controversial move by the One Equity Partners subsidiary of Bank One. Since then, the Polaroid name has been licensed to camera manufacturers, LCD's, plasma televisions and DVD players. In 2007, "Polaroid" cameras were discontinued, and this year, "Polaroid" has announced that it will discontinued the manufacture of its "instant" film in 2009.

Bottom line: the innovative company founded by Edwin Land is now a legal mashup designed to squeeze lemonade from the bankruptcy lemon. Zink Imagine is the innovator. Polaroid is just another bank deal.

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