Mobile Color Measurement for Real?

The last couple of years we've been bombarded with apps that claim to measure color. The procedure is simple: take a picture of a colored object and the app will tell you which paint color comes closest. However, these apps never deliver as promised. Most measurements are off, not even close. Your green could easily become blue, your brown becomes red. The reason is simple: colors in a photo are subject to lighting, which hugely affects the color of the surface. This is explained in the very first post on our weblog: 'What is Color?'
As a result, colors can only be measured reliably with an additional hardware measurement device that has its own standarized light source. There are some on the market which are small and can be coupled with your smartphone. Which is great, but still requires you to purchase and carry around an extra device. However, some German scientists may have come up with a solution, the HawkSpex app. Their app uses the smartphone screen as a light source.

By manipulating the light of the screen, they managed to turn a smartphone into a full-fledged spectrophotometer. Spectros are great. Not only do they allow you to measure colors reliably, they can also tell a lot about the chemical components of an object. The latter feature is used by the new app to test if food is safe to eat. But considering that the smartphone is turned into a spectro, it seems only a matter of time before someone comes up with an app to reliably match a surface to paint color.