American physicist Edwin Land invented instant photography in the 1940s in response to his 3-year-old daughter’s question about why she couldn’t immediately see the photo he took of her. And in 1948, the very first instant camera, the Polaroid 95, was launched.
More recently, we’ve seen a seismic shift in consumer demand for instant-print solutions. Although Zink Zero Ink technology has been around since 2005, when it was spun out from Polaroid as a separate company, skyrocketing consumer adoption of mobile imaging has created a new market paradigm. Instant cameras are being rediscovered as a niche of their very own, as the allure of “actual” printed pictures is surging, with consumers showing an appetite for capturing memories on paper.
According to The NPD Group, instant print cameras saw U.S. dollar growth of over 30 percent in 2017, while detachable lens and digital point-and-shoot cameras have experienced unit declines. In fact, U.S. dollar sales of instant print cameras were 28 percent higher last December than December 2016, and sold 2.7 times more units than digital point-and-shoot cameras.
In 1948, the pressure for a seamless way for people to take and instantaneously print photos was paramount. Now, 70 years later, the market is driven by the same desire. In today’s selfie-dominated era, consumers want immediate gratification, and the ability to print images from anywhere at any time is seductive.
A Technavio Research study identified the rise in use of mobile devices and the resulting increase in the number of photos taken as the primary drivers of growth in the photo printing and merchandise market. To nobody’s surprise, improvements in mobile phone camera technology have sparked the demand for instant printing. Consider this: The very first commercial camera phone, introduced in 2000 by Sharp, produced 110,000-pixel images (0.1MP).
According to The NPD Group, instant print cameras saw U.S. dollar growth of over 30 percent in 2017, while detachable lens and digital point-and-shoot cameras have experienced unit declines.
Today’s camera phones feature megapixels in the double digits and boast such bells and whistles as optical zoom, red-eye erasure, and the capability to shoot panoramic photos and HD video. Theses advancements have also ignited demand for compact photo printers. Devices like HP’s Sprocket, which connect to smartphones and other devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, are captivating consumers with their ease of use, mobility and portability (more on this later).
The combination of wireless photo-clicking accessories and the rise in applications for these technologies is also fostering a surge in instaprint cameras, as consumers, more than at any time in recent history, crave the ability to click and print images from a single device. According to NPD, the total U.S. instant print camera market was up 32 percent in units in 2017 over the year prior.
Consumers are drawn to devices like the Kodak Printomatic for quality and convenience: it don’t require ink; it’s small enough to fit in a pocket; and print photos don’t need to dry before handling. The 10MP pocket camera also features the ability to instantly print 2×3-inch sticker photos on non-ink Zink paper. Again, all the user needs is paper; ink cartridges, toner and the like are not required. And with an initial retail of $69, and paper at 50 cents per print regardless of quantity purchased, the attraction of affordable, consumer-friendly instant printing is understandable.
Also driving adoption is the aforementioned selfie phenomenon. When Ellen DeGeneres snapped her famous selfie with Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and others at the 2014 Oscars, she ignited a pop culture phenomenon by immediately posting it on Twitter, where it was re-tweeted over 3 million times, more than any other photo in history.
This “selfie generation” is flocking to image-based social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, which, according to eMarketer, are the preferred mediums of more than 190 million social network users in the U.S. In fact, two of the top three social media apps used by Verizon customers during this month’s Super Bowl were Snapchat and Instagram, with Snapchat moving up from third place last year to most used Super Bowl social app this go ’round.
Florian Kaps, author of the book “Polaroid: The Magic Material,” believes that as more and more of our everyday lives are filtered via screens, people revert to yearning for products they can touch. In an interview with The Guardian, Kaps pointed at the resurgence of vinyl records and Kodak’s launch of a revamped Super 8 camera earlier this year. “People discovered that all the images they take with their smartphones basically disappear; they have 200 images from a party and they all look the same. They start missing photo albums and pictures on refrigerators,” noted Kaps.
Social media has allowed nostalgic brands like Kodak and Polaroid to extend brand awareness to tweens, millennials and their parents who grew up with the Polaroid OneStep. Did you know that the very first Instagram logo, designed by Kevin Systrom, was actually an image of a real instant camera with a rainbow strip?
Simply put, as people take more pictures, they crave hard copy images and actual prints to recall everyday experiences; they want access to instant-print imaging, and manufacturers like HP, Kodak and Polaroid are answering the call.
Related: Polaroid Snap Wins TWICE VIP Award
As mentioned earlier, Zink technology has been around for more than a decade. During that ten-year stretch, wireless technology has taken quantum leaps forward. In 2016, Bluetooth boosted speeds by 100 percent while providing a greater range for connecting devices. Since its initial launch in 2000, Bluetooth has regularly improved, enabling unprecedented innovation. Think about how easy it is to connect devices by Bluetooth today compared to three years ago.
At Zink, we are paying close attention to all the innovations that come our way, and Bluetooth is no exception. In my opinion, it is one of the single most important drivers of this market and Zink Zero Ink technology. Mobility is great, but connectivity is the glue that ties it all together.
Thanks to these trends, Zink is projecting an 85 percent increase in shipments of its award-winning Zink Paper, to more than 40 million bundles. It is truly an exciting time for Zink and the instant-print imaging industry at large.
Chaim Pikarski is CEO of Zink Holdings, inventor of Zink technology, a full-color printing system (and a contraction of “Zero” and “Ink”) that eliminates the need for ink cartridges or ribbons.