Watch out Apple: Polaroid is taking aim at the tablet market


Polaroid CEO Scott Hardy gives a presentation at CES in Las Vegas. Polaroid has a huge booth at the tech show, where it’s hawking a range of products including tablets, televisions, portable video cameras and, yes, instant-film digital cameras. (Hayley Tsukayama)

Think “Polaroid,” and you probably feel a warm wave of nostalgia for the days when Mom or Dad would snap a vacation shot, pull the instant film out of the camera and then gather the family around to watch the picture develop in real time.

But chances are you don’t associate the name with any technology past the digital camera revolution.

Well, you might be surprised to hear that the company has a huge booth at International CES 2014, where it’s hawking a range of products -- including tablets, televisions, portable video cameras and, yes, instant-film digital cameras.

After declaring bankruptcy in 2001, and again in 2008, the company has partnered with a number of other firms to keep its name alive and equip itself to deal with changes in the consumer market.

At CES, the company has announced two television sets -- a $1,000 4K set and a $600 set with a built-in streaming stick from Roku -- as well as a line of sub-$200 tablets aimed at price-conscious buyers. It also markets a tablet for children that comes loaded with kid-friendly apps, movies and games, as well as the parental controls to keep it that way.

Much of Polaroid’s business is international, said chief executive Scott Hardy in a press event Wednesday, where the company generates over 50 percent of its sales.

But the company is working to make a comeback by returning to its roots in photography, albeit with a slightly altered version of its classic camera. A 14MP, Android-based digital camera called the Socialmatic is the latest addition to the Polaroid family. It prints wallet-sized photos out of its side, but also lets users share their photos with apps. The firm has also launched FotoLab retail stores -- including a pop-up store in Washington’s Union Station -- to let people print the photos they already have on their phones. A new flagship store will open in Las Vegas next month, the firm said.

The company is also going after action-video giant GoPro, which has seen great success with its durable, wearable cameras. Polaroid’s own “Action” line of cameras are now WiFi- enabled and strikingly compact -- the smallest is a 35 mm cube. They’re designed to be waterproof and shockproof so that users can record without worrying about shattering their newest toy.

This broad diversification of products may seem surprising for such a traditional company. But Polaroid, after all, was arguably onto the idea of the instant sharing before anyone else, and the name still carries the association of being a fun tool for the casual photographer.

At least, that’s what the company would say.

“Today’s Polaroid, as the Polaroid of 75 years ago, is about sharing, creativity, community, reliability and value,” Hardy said.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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