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Polaroid 'Swing' aims to help an old brand learn a new trick

Polaroid Swing
Source: App Store

Polaroid, the iconic but indebted camera company that endured two bankruptcies in less than 10 years, is ready for its digital era close-up.

The company is getting a second chance at life with "Polaroid Swing," which it recently launched and basically functions as a digital Polaroid. The app lets users take 60 frames in one second, capturing an action that plays back almost like a moving portrait out of "Harry Potter." Polaroid Swing, as the name suggests, lets users swing their lenses from one side to the other in order to replay an action.

"The big thing with this exercise was going back to the core purpose of Polaroid, which was to make available a new medium of expression," Frederick Blackford, one of Swing's co-founders, told CNBC recently.

"We started with the app because we wanted to connect it with as many people as possible, but the challenge was how to innovate not only on mobile but other platforms in the physical and virtual world," he said.

It's a bold move for reclaiming relevancy in a world where traditional cameras have been cannibalized by smartphones. In years past, a Polaroid was synonymous with instant pictures: With one click, the camera would whir, print a filtered version of the real world, then slowly let its film develop as it was met with light. Later, that moment could get replayed by just looking at the photo in your hand, or in an album, or taped on a refrigerator.

The Taylor Swift effect

Polaroid Swing Founders, Frederick Blackford and Tommy Stadlen
Deborah Findling | CNBC
Polaroid Swing Founders, Frederick Blackford and Tommy Stadlen

It's a concept Polaroid is aiming to revive through Swing, and hopes to tap into a deep cultural reservoir of nostalgia to accomplish the task.

"When you use Polaroid, it says something about you," Swing co-founder Tommy Stadlen told CNBC in a recent interview, saying the idea came to him in an unusual way.

"Taylor Swift released her album '1989' [in 2014] while we were in the middle of starting this," the tech entrepreneur said. "It was fascinating: This front cover had a Polaroid on the front of it, it didn't say the word Polaroid anywhere but people knew it and knew the white border."

Blackford and Stadlen took inspiration from the original Polaroid camera and photos. Collaborating with a group of musicians and artists, the team was able to capture what they felt was a visual representation of a human memory. It was more of a vignette than a photo or video, and lasted roughly one second long.

The immediacy and authenticity of the original Polaroid experience is part of the inspiration behind the brand's digital revival.

After filing for bankruptcy in 2001 and again in 2008, the Polaroid Corp. is now a holding company for the brand name, which lends Swing a bit of its legitimacy.

"We entered a unique partnership with Polaroid where we set this company up together and they invested their brand and expertise," said Blackford. "They are long-term stakeholders and they are our shareholders. For them, it represented a bet on a Silicon Valley start-up."

Polaroid Swing HQ in San Francisco.
Deborah Findling | CNBC
Polaroid Swing HQ in San Francisco.
"Nostalgia doesn't have to be about the past, this idea that you can get nostalgic about moments you're currently in, that's what I've always felt with Polaroid." -Tommy Stadlen, co-founder, Polaroid Swing

For now, there are three sections to the app: a highlights section with a user feed (along with a counter for likes and views), a camera section for capturing a swing and a profile page. The filters may seem familiar: they are the brainchild of artist-in-residence Cole Rise, who created many of the original filters for Instagram and runs his own photo-filtering app, Litely.

Polaroid Swing's already caught the attention of Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who not only invested in the company but is its chairman as well. So far the app has raised money from investors in the media, entertainment and technology industries but the only investor the company is willing to disclose publicly is Stone.

The hint of a possible future with hardware or virtual reality is all part of the greater vision to make the Swing experience as immersive as possible. One thing is clear for the founders, however. They are interested in capturing nostalgia for a new generation of digital picture takers.

"Nostalgia doesn't have to be about the past, this idea that you can get nostalgic about moments you're currently in, that's what I've always felt with Polaroid." said Stadlen.