iPhone Camera Meets Benjamin Moore Fan Deck

By Charles Thurston | August 4, 2009

Benjamin Moore has wedded its color authority to the technology of iPhones. On June 1 the company debuted ben Color Capture, an iPhone application that, with the tap of a key, lets users snap a picture of any color and instantly match it to one of the more than 3,300 hues in Benjamin Moore's color system.

It is not surprising that Benjamin Moore, the paint company that unveiled the first retail color mixing technology back in 1983 has come up with one of the latest hot applications for the Apple iPhone. Called "ben Color Capture," which echoes Benjamin Moores's "ben" line of low-VOC interior paints, the app became available on June 1 for free on Apple's web site. Since then some 50,000 downloads of the app have moved into consumers hands, said Carl Minchew, Benjamin Moores's director of color technology.

With approximately 79 million iPhone users, such an application may become a key driver for more e-commerce channel retail paint sales. Indeed, AT&T reported sales of 2.4 million new iPhone customers during second-quarter 2009, its best quarter to date since the phone went on sale two years ago. Half of all iPhone users are under 30, and 15% of them are students.

"The ben Color Capture app utilizes the capabilities of the iPhone to provide a fun and useful tool for exploring and storing color information," said Minchew. "Since camera-based RGB systems are not optimized for color accuracy, the intent of the app is to help the user identify colors of interest which they can fine tune using a variety of accurate color tools such as color chips and wet samples."

The application is relatively easy to use. After downloading it from the Apple website, you simply open the "capture" icon to either take a photo or call up a photo stored-perhaps previously imported-on the phone.

To test the application, I turned to a local iPhone user and color designer, Annie Conn, who had decided to paint a wall the same color as the electric blue eyes of her Australian shepherd mix, Sinatra. Once Annie shot a single photo of the dog's eyes, she zoomed into the eye area, touched the screen over the eye, and up popped a palette of half a dozen close shades from Benjamin Moore's 3,400-strong color wheel, among which Province Blue was the best match, which was also identified by its Benjamin Moore mix formula number.

"This app is great for anyone who wants a quick reference to color from anything they can get a picture of," said Conn. "The zoom-in capabilities of the iPhone help you capture the target color."

Other ways to view the target color are through the app's strip and harmony functions. Touching the strip icon opens a palette of the various colors selected in the photo area, arranged in a row from light to dark. Touching the harmony icon opens a row of color shades and tints from the target area of the photo. The app also includes a color wheel, which shows the selected color in relation to the rest of the spectrum, arranged as a wheel. There also is a favorites icon, used to store such photos. And there is a store locator to find the closest place to order, based on the iPhones' GPS capability.

In our case, Peterson's Paint, in Santa Rosa, CA, was the closest, and we ordered a quart of Province Blue by phone. Other retailers permit customers to order over the Internet and arrange for shipping, if not leaving home is desirable.

"I'm thrilled about the new application," said Sean Lile, owner of Peterson's, which carries a full line of Benjamin Moore products. "Any time technology can help you out with a choice for color for your home that's great. This will replace some in-store scanning, but these are just some of the tools to help with color choices."

Customers come into the store every day with a patch of something they want scanned, Lile said. Typically, the in-store scanner requires a patch of at least one square inch to assure accuracy. The in-store scanners used in Benjamin Moore retail centers are either Xrite-made CF57 spectrometers or a newer model, the iVue, according to Minchew. The iVue "provides a high degree of spectral resolution and absolute color data across the visible spectrum at 10nm intervals," said Eileen McComb, the director of communications for Benjamin Moore. These machines retail for somewhere in the $4,000 to $6,000 range.

Benjamin Moore also sells a portable pocket scanner-the Pocket Palette-to professionals for $299, offering them the ability to scan a surface in the field and capture up to 20 colors with a single click. From there a customer can match favorites to the closest Benjamin Moore color.

At Peterson's Paint, Pocket Palette use by professionals has thus far exceeded iPhone use by retail customers, but that could change soon. "We have both sold and rented the Pocket Palette, but in the past, they had to be brought back in to get updated. Now I believe an owner can update them," said Bob Thomson, the manager of the store. "However once a consumer or professional captures a color, there are still light variances-inside, outside, fluorescent, etc.-so we may need to help with selecting the sheen. The iPhone app is great, and the Pocket Palette is better, but man made the computer and God made the eye, so you can guess which color is truest."

Available as of June 1, the application is free and can be downloaded by visiting the Apple Store web site, www.apple.com/iphone/appstore; search for ben and select to install.

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The ben app is intuitive and easy-to-use. In the case of iPhone user and color designer, Annie Conn, who had decided to paint a wall the same color as the blue eyes of her Australian shepherd mix, Sinatra,
she took a photo with the built-in-camera, simply glided a finger across the digital image, zoomed into the eye area and tapped the "match" key. In just seconds, a strip of colors appeared below the photo, with the closest paint match highlighted. A simple shake of the phone and ben will provide up to four coordinating colors. Province Blue was the closest match in Benjamin Moore's color system. The ben app can access the iPhone's GPS system, locating the Benjamin Moore retailer nearest to wherever the user is at that very moment. In this case it was Peterson's Paint in Santa Rosa, CA, where a quart of Province Blue was ordered over the phone and then picked up in person.


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