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How Polaroid Got Reduced To An Instagram Plugin

Instagram built a billion-dollar empire on Polaroid's aesthetic. Now, amazingly, the 75-year-old company is worshipping at its altar with an app.

Posted on May 9, 2012, at 4:14 p.m. ET

Well here's a dizzying thought: Polaroid, the company that defined instant photography and inadvertently inspired the retro photo craze, is on the brink of collapse. And its latest — and maybe last — attempt to save itself is an Instagram clone.

In case that doesn't give you vertigo:

Polaroid was founded in 1937. Instagram was founded in 2010, when Polaroid desperately partnering with Lady Gaga. Polaroid sold $1.3 billion in cameras and film in 1983, and billions more in the years after. Instagram was bought by Facebook for a $1 billion in 2012 when it had virtually no revenue. Polaroid made hardware. Instagram makes software. Polaroid film looked the way it did because it had to. Instagram's retro filters are an affectation. Polaroid laid off 2000 employees in 2001. Instagram currently has about 12.

It's fair to call the new Polaroid app, Polamatic, a knock-off of both Instagram and Hipstamatic. Its shooting screen is a Hipstamatic-style skeuomorph and, as in Hipstamatic, extra filter packs ("Vintage Polaroid" and "Photo Effects Upgrade") are a dollar each. Its filter selector tray is pure Instagram, as is its shooting mechanism. The only new thing you'll find here is Polaroid branding, a bunch of border effects and a tool for writing faux-marker captions on your photos.

But, eh, whatever: the app's real punch is in its sharing button. All the sadness in the world is contained in that little cloud icon, behind which you'll find an Instagram button. When pressed, it doesn't just post your photo to Instagram. It actually switches you to the Instagram app on your iPhone — the one they presumably just convinced you to switch away from.

And so there it is: In 2012, Polaroid's hottest product is a paid client for a free service that probably wouldn't exist if not for Polaroid. Yikes.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.