Magazine Article


Polaroid Pulls Plug On High-Speed Kiosk

Prints Were Fast But Cost Doomed Innovative Device

It may have been the fastest kiosk in the West but it was also one of the most expensive and that was its undoing.

Polaroid quietly confirmed last month that it was pulling the plug on its Instant Digital Prints (IDP) kiosks which boasted print rates of one every two seconds, a speed unrivaled by any of its competitors.

But that speed came at a price, one that was probably too high for the kiosk to remain competitive.

"What it came down to was the marketplace and some competitive barriers that have developed over time," said Kimberly Reingold, Polaroid's senior public relations manager. "Polaroid came to the conclusion that although the concept was accurate and there was consumer acceptance, it would have been best for us not to pursue this."

[The news that Polaroid was discontinuing its digital photo kiosk program first appeared in Photo Imaging News.]

Though it was fast, the IDP kiosk was not cheap. It sold for $20,000 in a crowded field of kiosks, many of which cost a quarter of that price. The IDP's top-secret "frozen ink" technology, known as Opal, which helped it print quickly, was also costly. Some estimates suggested that a retailer would have to charge as much as 79-cents for a 4x6 print to make up for the cost of materials. Most kiosks typically charge customers 29-cents for a 4x6.

"If you've got a cost structure that makes 29-cents impossible, you're in trouble," said Bill McCurry, a photo industry consultant. "The price was a moving target."

Despite the cost issue, McCurry said the concept of the IDP kiosk was sound. "This industry will always owe a lot to the various geniuses who have inhabited Polaroid," he said. "Even though the kiosk will not be with us, the technology will remain. The concept of immediate two-second delivery will live on."

He noted that customers he talked with in Boston who were using the Polaroid kiosk during a recent trial liked the speed of machine and didn't mind that it lacked image editing features that have become standard on other kiosks.

Polaroid purposely stripped down the IDP, which only printed 4x6s, to help speed customers through the process of making prints. According to Polaroid, a customer could select, print, and pay for 24 digital snapshots in less than two minutes. Consequently, the IDP was designed for high volume sites. One of the places Polaroid tested the kiosk was at the Prudential Center shopping mall in Boston.

A report on kiosks conducted by Summit Research for PMA last year said that while the quality of prints from the IDP kiosks were not as good as from other brands, that was not the point. "For customers who simply require extremely fast processing of images on the digital media, the Polaroid system will fit the bill. It ought to be very appealing for mass merchandisers," the report stated. "For customers who want a better-than-average quality print, they are unlikely to be pleased with the results. However, this unit is not intended for that demanding audience and therefore, with that caveat, the Instant Digital Prints kiosk ought to prove successful in the mass marketplace."

Unfortunately for Polaroid, the device never had the chance to prove its worthiness.

When asked whether employees on the kiosk project were "shocked or saddened" by the recent developments, Reingold said "a little bit of both."

"Butalthough it was a tough decision, it was the right decision at this time."

Polaroid filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and has been steadily pulling itself out of the hole ever since. It was hoped that the IDP kiosk would help speed that recovery.