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A Next-Gen Polaroid Picture? Not So Fast

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Polaroids died a quiet death in 2008, when the company stopped making the film. But the company isn’t fading away. At CES this year, they’ve unveiled a replacement product: A digital camera with an attached printer that creates instant pictures.

The $200 Pogo camera, co-developed with Zink, has been almost two years in the making. It grafts a promising mobile printer, introduced last summer, to a small digital camera. The first hands-on look appeared today, and the results are fairly interesting: The 2″x3″ prints hark back to the evocatively fuzzy Polaroids, emerging with a blue-ish tint after a minute of printing onto special paper (the printer itself is ink-less). But, when the camera goes on sale this spring, will it be successful?

Instant printing is here to stay, but I doubt the Pogo camera will catch on for a simple reason: The original Polaroids were alluring because you never knew what you were going to get when the picture finally appeared. And if there’s anything that the digital camera (and digital gear in general) has eliminated, it’s unpredictability. If you want to see how a picture turned out, you just look at the screen. That was the biggest draw of a Polaroid; with digital pictures, there’s no anxious curiosity pushing you towards the extra step of printing.

That’s a shame -— as Andre 3000 of Outkast will happily tell you, shaking a Polaroid picture is what elevated a dumb piece of tech into a cultural ritual, and made the product truly memorable. In these days of nearly perfected technology, we’ve got less opportunity to make those sentimental attachments. But I’m guessing a truly great product designer will soon invent a brilliantly cheap, crappy product that succeeds precisely  because it isn’t perfect.CK