Color app pairs social networking with photos, but privacy concerns abound

Mar 27, 2011
Tech

Color me unimpressed. With $41 million in venture capital, one would think the team at Color Labs would deliver a polished app, but that’s not the case when it comes to the app Color, available on iPhone and camera-equipped iPod Touch and iPad. Perhaps Color Labs planned on relying on hype to spell out exactly […]

Color me unimpressed. With $41 million in venture capital, one would think the team at Color Labs would deliver a polished app, but that’s not the case when it comes to the app Color, available on iPhone and camera-equipped iPod Touch and iPad.

Perhaps Color Labs planned on relying on hype to spell out exactly what its app does, because if you’re looking for directions there are few to be found. Once you take the beginning steps of creating a name and taking a user photo, any photos or video you shoot via the Color app will appear in the cloud for anyone around you to see, ideally making for a huge photo or video album and eliminating the need for sharing. You’ll find some icons at the bottom of the screen — the color wheel opens the camera, and I think the left icon shows photos near you currently, while the right icon displays your history. If you’re viewing what I call the history, tapping the right icon again will take you to messages, but I found this feature entirely by accident.

My boyfriend and I gave Color a go sitting on opposite ends of the couch, because warning: Don’t use Color alone!, and indeed I was able to see his photo of a blanket, and he saw my photo of the dog. Exciting, aren’t we? Tapping photos popped up options for commenting and liking, and swiping photos gave an option to report offensive images or delete an image of your own. Color claims to have a range of up to 150 feet, but I found this unreliable. Boy’s iPhone 4 picked up two other users in the vicinity (presumably in our building or next door) and was able to see their images. Creepy. My iPhone, on the other hand, found no additional users, even after multiple refreshes, restarts and walks around the apartment. I don’t know where Ramon and David came from, but I’m guessing they didn’t see my images either.

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The biggest drawback to Color is that it offers no privacy, not that it ever claimed to. Color has purposefully eschewed privacy in the creation of this app, which means there are no accounts to create, no friends lists to build. That’s a great thing in a world of too many user names and passwords. But it also means that anyone using the app near you can see your photos, and vice versa, and I’m not sure people are ready for that level of transparency. I also really disliked the fact that even after deleting an image it was still visible in thumbnail format on both of our devices.

Color has to be running to pull in images, but it seemed to work in the background on Boy’s phone. You can share images via the heart icon through Twitter, Facebook, email or SMS, but I didn’t see a way to save an image to your camera roll, something users probably will want in spite of the cloud storage aspect.

As much as I didn’t like the user experience of Color, I can’t say that it’s entirely a bad idea. I can definitely see its appeal if I were at a large event with many users nearby, or its journalistic usefulness in quickly gathering many perspectives of a crisis situation. I think the app needs work in its current form, but I’d give it another look after an update or three.

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Kathryn Swartz

Kathryn Swartz is a freelance writer/editor who doesn't know how people lived pre iPhone. She attended the Missouri School of Journalism.

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