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Polaroid’s newest gadget gives analog life to smartphone photos

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It’s a shiny, tightly-framed snapshot of a couple of friends of mine, posing as we share a booth at a New York diner. It’s almost (but not quite) square, with a distinctive white border that’s thicker at the bottom than on the other sides.

As you may already have figured out, the item I am cradling in my hand is a Polaroid photo.

But unlike the hundreds—thousands?—of Polaroids I’ve shot in my life, this one began its life as a digital image. I took it with my Pixel 3 smartphone and then used a new gadget, the Polaroid Lab, to transfer it onto a piece of proudly analog Polaroid instant film, where it developed before my eyes in classic fashion.

The Polaroid Lab won’t go on sale until October 10, but I’ve spent some time with a pre-release unit and beta versions of its accompanying iPhone and Android apps. For those without an existing affinity for instant photography in its traditional form, the whole idea of turning a digital photo into a chemistry-based snapshot may sound like a backward act of hipsterism, akin to pressing your MP3 collection onto vinyl. But what the Lab does, it does well. And analog instant photography—a medium even Polaroid itself once left for dead—has snapped back to life, giving the Lab a shot at success.

As a bridge between the digital and analog worlds, the Polaroid Lab is trying to solve an actual modern problem. The smartphone is the culmination of the dream Polaroid founder Edwin Land pursued decades ago, when he said the company’s goal was to build a camera you could take everywhere and adopt as a primary form of communications, as natural as using a pen. Today, we do that. But the sheer volume of photos in our lives has tended to make them feel less special. Maybe even a bit impersonal: People upload 100 million photos and videos a day just to Instagram, where they come and go and usually feel like chum being dumped into an ocean of content rather than treasured mementos. In the case of something like Instagram Stories, the fact that photos quickly vanish from your feed is part of the supposed value proposition.

The Lab dials back the ephemeral nature of modern photography by encouraging you to choose your most meaningful pictures and give them permanent form. “One of the big drawbacks of the infinitely-growing giant camera roll on your phone is that you never end up bumping into the stuff,” says Polaroid CEO Oskar Smolokowski. “But if you have a bunch of physical Polaroids on your fridge wall or in an album, you’re more likely to revisit them.” Handing such a photo to a friend feels like giving a gift, which I for one have never found true of direct-messaging someone a JPEG.

The introduction of the Polaroid Lab is the latest milestone in the revival of Polaroid, a company which........

© Fast Company