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Mobile Matchup and More

By: Karen A. Newman
Posted: August 26, 2008, from the September 2007 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Sounds a little like the beauty industry, doesn’t it? The constant need for new products on store shelves may be the industry’s single greatest challenge. Related challenges include how brand owners learn what customers want and how to help consumers get the most out of their products. The beauty of modern society is that three new technologies may hold some of the answers.

Makeup Matchmaker

What it is: On July 11, Hewlett-Packard (HP) showed off a new mobile color matching technology that the company says could change the way consumers shop for cosmetics. It can compensate for harsh lighting and zero in on the customer’s true skin color, complementing the services of makeup counter personnel.

How it works: A shopper at a cosmetics counter photographs herself using her mobile phone camera while holding a specially designed color chart. She sends the photo as an MMS (multimedia message) to a service set up to take the call. What happens next is described by HP: “Skin pixels are extracted from the color corrected image of the person’s face, and then compared to an existing database of previously captured and analyzed images of skin tones of real people.” Seconds later, the makeup customer receives a text message response with a recommendation on the shades that are best suited to her complexion.

“HP’s color matching technology provides retailers and consumer goods companies with a new, fun way to interact with customers and promote their products,” said Nina Bhatti, principal scientist, Digital Imaging and Printing Lab, HP Labs. “For those who shop for cosmetics, this technology gives them a virtual beauty consultant in the palm of their hands.”

This kind of technology is not entirely new. According to a review of the HP product found at the Web site of Technology Review, an MIT publication, “color matching algorithms have been used for years to maintain the color of images across devices such as cameras, computer monitors and printers. And the idea of using color matching algorithms to help people shop isn’t entirely new.”