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2 posts from January 7, 2013

January 07, 2013

Slate: A brilliant idea (from So. Fla.) that could make Polaroid relevant again

By Will Oremus


Polaroid-fotobar-280It’s been a long fall for Polaroid, which slept on the digital-photography revolution, went bankrupt, was resurrected, and went bankrupt again. In recent years, it has tried to reinvent itself with a succession of generally awkward new products, like a “smart camera” that doubles as an Android phone.

 But this week the company announced a new idea so simple and natural that it just might work. Partnering with a startup called Fotobar, it plans to open a chain of retail stores where customers can come in and print out their favorite pictures from their mobile phones. The first is scheduled to open in February in Delray Beach, and the goal is to open 10 locations across the country before the year is out. (Photo above provided by Polaroid)

 The idea has obvious appeal in an era when most of our best pictures live only on the screen. Of course there are other options for printing out hard copies, including Walgreens. But Fotobar is aiming higher, with dedicated retail outlets that sport an Apple Store-like layout and well-trained employees to help customers through the editing process. Customers will upload their image wirelessly from their smartphone to a bar-top workstation, customize it to their liking, and then print it out on anything from canvas to metal to bamboo — or even old-school Polaroid stock, complete with the iconic border.

 The basic Polaroid-style printouts will start at about $15 and be ready at the store within five to 10 minutes, Fotobar founder and CEO Warren Struhl told me. Prints on more exotic materials, or with framing and matting, will ship from a manufacturing facility within three days. At the extreme high end, Struhl said he has already had one customer order a print of a vacation photo of his family descending a mountain in Israel on super-thick, five-by-seven-foot acrylic Lucite. “They’ll be hanging this in a multimillion-dollar home,” he said.

 One early Fotobar customer ordered a $2,000 print of a family vacation snapshot on five-foot by seven-foot acrylic, to hang above the living-room couch.

 The artisanal approach is a departure from the original Polaroid experience, which was all about instant gratification. But immediacy is no longer what’s missing in photography today. We can share any image with anyone in seconds with a couple clicks of a smartphone button. What our photographs lack today are the permanence of tangibility. Fotobar’s Struhl told me he thinks there’s a great hidden desire for that.

 “When I ask people to show me their favorite picture, they take out their phone,” he said. “My next question is, does that favorite picture you just showed me live in a physical form? Does it exist on your wall, your desk, or your shelf? I get two answers. One is ‘no.’ Literally everyone says no. And the second is, everyone says, ‘and it p—-es me off.’ Because it’s too complex: ‘I don’t know what I’m going to get, I’ve got to plug something in, I don’t really know if this picture’s good enough.’ So I realized there was a pain point in people’s lives.” Struhl thinks the way to fix that is not just by making it easier, but by making it pleasant, educational and fun — by turning the work into play. That’s the Fotobars’ goal.

 Having lost its way in a high-tech world, Polaroid is going back to “high touch.” If it succeeds, the company will have pulled off a feat that few foresaw: returning to relevance in the age of Instagram.

Note: Polaroid is rolling out the retail-store concept at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. 

What small business owners should know about 'responsive web design'

By Tasha Cunningham

TashaIf you’re a small business owner thinking about giving your existing website a new look in 2013, you need to know about an emerging trend known as responsive Web design. The term was coined by Web developer Ethan Marcotte who wrote about the concept in 2011. Essentially, responsive Web design is an approach to designing a website that responds to a user’s behavior based on screen size and platform. With responsive Web design, when someone visits a URL, the site detects the device being used and adjusts itself accordingly for optimal viewing.

 While Web designers have built mobile versions of websites in the past that could be viewed on smartphones, tablets and other devices, there is a paradigm shift of sorts that major brands are now embracing. Starbucks, Grey Goose and even President Obama have websites that embrace the three tenets of responsive Web design: fluid grids, flexible images and CSS3 media inquiries to detect screen resolution. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet, which is a programming language that governs how a Web page looks in a browser.

 Designers who like responsive Web design use fluid grids to lay out a site’s pages. These fluid grids allow the site to be easily viewed on a variety of screens and devices. Flexible images are those that are automatically resized to be viewed on any mobile device. CSS3 media inquiries let the presentation of content be tailored to a range of devices without having to change the content itself.

You might be thinking that your current website is just fine. And it may be, but you should consider that having a website that adapts itself automatically will enhance the experience consumers have when they visit your site. In addition, the number of people who shift their use of the Internet from desktops to mobile devices is predicted to increase rapidly by 2015.

There were 800 million mobile Internet users in 2009, according to comScore. That number is predicted to grow to more than 1.9 billion by 2015. Internet viewing on desktops, by comparison, hasn’t really grown that much. In 2009, comScore reports, there were 1.4 billion people who used their desktops to view the Internet. That number is predicted to grow to just over 1.6 billion by 2015. According to a 2012 TechCrunch survey, 2013 is the year that mobile devices will overtake desktops as the dominant Internet platform globally.

But responsive Web design isn’t for everyone. Many banks and other businesses that offer mobile apps to sell their products and services don’t use it because responsive Web design often limits the types of things you can do on a website. A popular example is a mobile banking app that allows you to deposit a check by taking a picture of it. The application that creates that ability for customers is complicated and often can’t fit into a grid layout.

 In a recent article for Forbes.com, Carin van Vuuren, chief marketing officer at Usablenet, a New York-based firm that designs mobile solutions for major brands, noted that responsive Web design works well for sites where users consume content in sources like magazines and newspapers. But it doesn’t work well if you want your customer to interact with your content because of the complexity of mobile applications for making a purchase.

Another important thing to consider is the potential problems with load times on responsive design sites. However, delivering content on responsive sites could potentially turn users off. For instance, if you’re trying to deliver complex functions, such as buying a product or service using common, but cumbersome programming languages like CSS, JavaScript, or Personal Home Page (PHP), the pages will be complex and heavy with code.

The experience on a smartphone or other mobile device will be much slower than if you tried to make the same purchase on the same site from your desktop. The time it takes a page to load has a dramatic effect on a customer’s experience and whether they will do business with you again. As a small business owner, knowing that consumers are moving toward mobile devices to make purchases, you’ve got to weigh the pros and cons of responsive Web design against the type of customer experience you want to deliver.

Do you want to explore whether responsive web design is for you? Check out www.BizBytes101.com

Tasha Cunningham is a columnist for the Miami Herald's Business Monday section.