A photograph used to be something that sat on your desk or hung on your wall. You picked it up from the printer days or weeks after snapping it, and it memorialized a moment that had long past. The Polaroid instant camera changed the role of photos. It made sharing them an instantaneous action for people in the same room. Apps like Instagram have taken this change further by sharing snapshots instantly to mobile phones anywhere in the world.
But one of the best things about photos—that they can be enjoyed passively—is lost when they’re distributed through a mobile phone. A new product called Instacube aims to bring that passive viewing aspect back.
Instacube is a Wi-Fi-equipped, battery-powered box that displays Instagram feeds on a LCD touch screen. Created by design and incubation studio Design to Matter, it has just three buttons: one for power; one for toggling between personal, friends, and hashtagged Instagram feeds; and one, heart-shaped, for liking photos.
"I love Instagram, I use Instagram, but I look at it about 10 minutes a day … So I don’t really get to experience it," Andrew Butler, the chairman and CEO of Design to Matter, tells Fast Company. "But with Instacube sitting next to my desk, every time I can’t complete a sentence on something I’m writing or one of my projects, I can turn and get this nice visual relief."
Instacube hasn’t just brought digital photos into the physical world. Digital photo frames did that, and nobody would cite them as revolutionary. Rather, it’s a smart cross between the original concept of a photo and its modern incarnation. In addition to being a stand-alone physical object, the photos it displays are real-time, portable, and social. You can set it to show pictures of sunsets or a feed from a loved one who is far away.
"A digital photo frame is nothing but regurgitated static images repeated over and over again," Butler says. "There’s no surprise element to a digital photo frame. The beauty of feeding it with Instagram is that you don’t know what you’re going to see next. "
Startups are lining up to turn your Instagram photos into canvas prints, iphone cases, refrigerator magnets, coasters, phone cozies, or a number of other products (each with a worse name: casetagram, stickygram, instapouch). In doing so, the photos keep their filters but lose the other positive qualities Instagram gives them.
Instacube, however, has retained the best digital qualities of Instagram photos even as it translates them for viewing in the physical world.