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When Kinko’s and Apple’s Genius Bar collide, you get Polaroid’s Fotobars

polaroid fotobarPolaroid is going through something of a rebranding, functioning mostly as an intellectual property company banking on the strength of its name. The camera company long ago fell behind manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Olympus in making innovative cameras, but that’s fine with Polaroid, because the legacy company now has a different focus altogether: The social photography experience.

We live in an Instagram age, and Polaroid knows it. The company recently announced it would be introducing Polaroid Fotobars – retail stores where consumers can bring their photos, manipulate and edit them, receive professional help, and then print on a variety of materials, in a variety of sizes, for a variety of prices.

polaroid fotobar printLast week at CES, we had the chance to try the Polaroid Fotobar experience. After setting up your Fotobar account and getting your own email address, you’re ready to start printing. You can either send photos from your phone to said email address or upload directly from the desktop. The account also provides cloud storage for whatever photos you send to it. From there, you can tweak your shots with an impressive (if novice-level) editing suite, courtesy of Aviary. Of course, this includes filters.

Be careful with smartphone-captured pictures, however: You don’t want to send anything that has already been Instagrammed. Photos taken with a camera, sent to your phone, saved in its gallery, and then sent back out to the Fotobar editor could also experience quality issues.

fotobar my photo managerThe Fotobar account, uploading, editing, framing, and ordering hub are exactly what you’d expect. It’s nothing more than another online storage and editing center for your photos – it just comes with the option to also pay to have your photos printed. The results we saw were high quality, of course, but what Polaroid is really selling here is the experience of Fotobar.

polaroid fotobar wall artIt’s very reminiscent of an Apple Genius Bar: Sleek, trendy, simple – with hands-on help if you want it. “When you order something online, you don’t really know what it’s going to look like until you get it,” a Fotobar rep told us. Fotobars will offer classes, in-store experts. The concept definitely runs parallel to the do-it-yourselfism that has infiltrated photography. The democratization of digital photography has been cameras (including smartphone cameras) into the hands of virtually anyone, put editing and manipulation tools in their hands, all without training, teaching, or supervision; Polaroid’s trying to get a little retro with the Fotobar stores.

It’s a risk. And while technology isn’t cyclical, trends are – and it’s obvious that digital and smartphone photography are a significant part of pop culture right now. You can create a Fotobar account and start editing and ordering prints immediately, but you’ll have to wait until February for the in-store experience; the first store opens in Delray Beach, Florida.

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