Even without their logos, you may be able to identify them as Polaroid products. All are decorated with the company’s “spectrum” stripe of rainbow colors and have white plastic covers and large red buttons that connect them to other Polaroid devices. all the way back to the 70’s.
Only these Polaroid products are not instant cameras. They are Bluetooth speakers – the first result of a new initiative by the most famous name in instant photography to make people think that it is a brand that is about more than instant photography.
The lineup includes four Polaroid players — the P1, P2, P3 and P4 — ranging from a nearly pocket-sized $60 version with a carabiner to a sturdy $290 model with a boombox-style handle. They all support Bluetooth streaming, work with a Polaroid Music smartphone app that has five stations of its own, as well as Apple Music integration (Spotify is in the works), and can be used in pairs as wireless stereo systems.
It may not be intuitively obvious that the world needed Polaroid speakers, or that the company had to make them. After all, instant photography – once left for dead in the wake of the digital revolution – is very much alive. Today’s Polaroid is actually a fusion of the remnants of the original Polaroid and The Impossible Project, a startup that saved Polaroid film from obscurity; it has been brought back to life in ways few could have predicted.
But Polaroid chairman Oskar Smolokowski says the company’s symbiotic relationship with a decades-old analog technology is also limiting: “It still inspires people and it’s magical, but it can’t be the only thing we do if we can give Polaroid a future.” want to give .”
If Polaroid was going to try something new, music had a certain logic. The company has long played around with audio on the fringes: Both the original Polaroid and The Impossible Project tried to find a way to associate a sound clip with an instant photo, though neither attempt went anywhere. There was even a Polaroid transistor radio which was powered by the leftover battery juice in empty film packs.
Still, the strongest case for the expansion into music is that the Polaroid brand is already associated with creativity, fun times and social connections, all of which help explain why people love music. “This is a space that suits us,” says Smolokowski.
Brand stretching, for good and bad
This won’t be the first time Polaroid has moved beyond instant photography — which, it’s easy to forget, wasn’t even his original business. The name of the company is a clue: it comes from founder Edwin Land’s breakthroughs in synthetic polarizers, which he achieved years before turning his attention to photography. Polaroid polarized sunglasses predate the cameras and stay availablealbeit made by a different Polaroid than the instant camera.
Like Polaroid’s current cameras, the speakers evoke the aesthetic without feeling a garishly retro.
In recent decades, however, the widening of the Polaroid brand has usually been a sign of trouble. In the 1980s, as instant photography started to grow as a business, the company started selling 35mm film and blank video tapes. Later, after it ceased production of instant cameras and film, it survived only as a zombie brand for rent, available for use on . . . well, apparently everything, from TVs until smartphones until game controllers until yoga mats. And yes, there have been some previous Polaroid Bluetooth speakers.
Well-known names from the past always have a residual value, which is why you can buy everything at Westinghouse ceiling fans until Bell & Howell bug zappers. With its new players, however, Polaroid is trying something more thoughtful.
As if it current cameras, the speakers evoke the familiar Polaroid aesthetic while simultaneously feeling fresh rather than fiercely retro. They have dials that allow you to adjust the volume and select favorites with a satisfying physicality that has become rare in modern consumer electronics. All but the smallest have circular LED displays that unashamedly display blocky text and icons.
There are even some Easter eggs for Polaroid fans. The red play button is exactly the same size as, say, the company’s camera shutter buttons, and you can wear the speakers by attaching the same neck strap you’d use with a Polaroid camera.
The exuberance of the players is striking in an era where device design often seems fortunate enough to fade into the background. Most competing products are “black or muted colors,” Smolokowski says. “We just wanted to celebrate a little bit more — vibrant and bright — so colors are an important aspect of it too.”
“This is very polaroid in a way,” says lead designer Ignacio Germade. “The Polaroid camera is not something that disappears into the room. It has a certain presence. It’s something you put in a room full of people, and suddenly it takes effect in the room. It has an effect on the people. And when designing the speakers, we wanted to do the same.”
Then there’s the smartphone app. With a total of five stations for now, it won’t be the only source of music for anyone, but Polaroid sees it as an important part of the package.
“We spent a lot of time thinking, ‘Okay, what’s the kind of music that gives you the emotional response you get when you look at the Polaroid photo?’ explains Germade. That led the company to create human-curated stations, with names like Polychrome (“Like a rave in a kaleidoscope”) and Royal Pine (“Uplifting anthems with real roots”), which aren’t strictly programmed by genre or decade. You may hear Santana and Rosalía on the same station, Germade says.
Between the new speakers and the app, the goal is to create an experience that could be a springboard for further exploration of music as a category, though Polaroid isn’t talking about where it might go. But just in case anyone is wondering if their passion for their best-known business is fading, think again.
“We’re definitely still very serious about instant photography,” says Smolokowski, adding that the company is working on “our first more capable camera, optical” to be released next year.
After all, even if this Polaroid music thing takes off, it’s a safe bet that the brand will always have one thing first in mind: photos that develop before your very eyes.