Adding Color to Google's or Apple's Gray Social Clouds

Color could be the type of mobile-meets-social-meets-local application Google and Apple have been searching for. Unless Facebook gets there first.

Color, the mobile picture-sharing application that launched with the controversial financial backing of $41 million last week, might have some usability issues in the early going but it's the type of cutting-edge company Facebook, Google and Apple love to acquire.

Similar to startups such as Path or Instagram, Color lets users take photos or video with their Apple iPhone or Google Android handset. The content is stored in the cloud, not locally on the smartphone.

While the networks behind the other apps are federated -- users give permissions to their friends to view content -- content generated for Color may be viewed by anyone nearby using the Color app, including friends and strangers. Users don't have to "accept" friend requests.

Photo and video content is organized by date, with users being able to tap on pictures to see when and where they were taken. Color gauges sound levels, Bluetooth readings, light readings, antenna strength, the time and other variables to determine a user's proximity to other users.

It's a new medium for visual communication with a mobile photo finish, with the social network elastic instead of fixed and federated on user requests.

The good news about Color is the barrier to entry is low. Users fire up the app and learn about strangers' lives once they enter within 150 feet of each other. Privacy isn't a consideration. When you and others download the app, you opt-in to sharing the graphical content you produce.'s Bruce Upbin noted: "You can stand in the middle of Times Square taking pictures while watching other Color users' pictures of Times Square, taken at that moment, stream across your iPhone in chronological order. It's like having fly's eyes, and it forces you to choose between creation and consumption all the time."

The problem with Color is also that the barrier to entry is low. Even if a Color user is not within 150 feet to other users, the app is useless. Color co-founder and CEO Bill Nguyen acknowledged this loneliness issue to Mashable and said his team is addressing it.

What's interesting about this app is it's the sort of thing one would expect Facebook to acquire. Color sits smack dab in the intersection of mobile, social and local, which is Facebook's bailiwick.

Except for the not-so-tiny dichotomy that there is a lot of permission-granting or denying within Facebook's walled garden, and none going on in Color, Facebook and Color would seem to be a match made in social heaven.

So inquisitive minds must turn to Google or Apple. That's right. Outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt and new geo-local maven Marissa Mayer have been extolling the virtues of contextual discovery since last September.

The idea that a user can be walking down the street and receive alerts to restaurants, museums and other attractions to their mobile phone based on existing preferences is core to Google's next-generation search strategy.

Color hews well to Google's sense of contextual discovery, and as John Battelle noted, could very crack the augmented reality nut Google, Apple and others are interested in cracking but can't figure out how.

Where Google is interested in mobile, social and local, Apple must also certainly aspire to be its equal to preserve the iPhone's celebrated status and boost its market position against the Android army.

Apple may not yet have a massive cloud computing sledgehammer to wield, but it has a massively scaling mobile platform in the iOS and is said to be porting more of its software to the cloud.

Color's Nguyen also already sold his previous company LaLa to Apple so there is a previous relationship cultivated there. Given that Google and Apple have jousted over LaLa, AdMob (Google got that mobile ad network) and other companies in the past, it wouldn't be a stretch to think we'll see a repeat of this brinksmanship.

Color probably needs to scale in order to attract the interest of Google or Apple. Facebook has shown no fear of buying companies that haven't built formidable Internet castles, so it might be the front-runner in a Color race.