HP has developed colour-matching technology that could allow mobile phone users to turn their handsets into shopping advisors.

The Color Match mobile service technology, developed by HP Labs, combines colour science, imaging science and mobile networking technology to match colours that complement each other and provide product advice over a mobile phone.

The technology can be used in anything that requires the assessment of colour application, said Nina Bhatti, principal scientist at the digital imaging and printing lab in HP Labs. It is particularly applicable to cosmetics, where buyers can use the service to buy a product that matches their skin colour, she said.

Users take a photograph of themselves while holding a specialised colour chart under their face. The picture is sent using MMS to an ‘advisory service’ on a server. Software on the server seeks out corrections in the image - it locates the face, adjusts lighting and calibrates the colour. Then skin pixels culled from a person's face on the corrected image are compared to an existing database of previously analysed images.

Based on the analysis, the advisory service sends a return SMS (Short Message Service) recommending what cosmetic colour and shades would best match the skin colour. The service returned recommendations in a matter of seconds in the demonstration.

Among other applications, the service will be able to make recommendations to match and recommend colours for ties, pants and suits, Bhatti said. Images can be taken with any mobile phone camera and the mobile service will work with any service provider.

For consumers, there's a value proposition in this technology: Take a picture and get advice, Bhatti said. While the technology is not out yet, it was developed with the view of making it a consumer application, Bhatti said. HP is seeking partners to make this technology available to consumers, the company said.

This service can be implemented by retailers and other consumer goods companies to help users select the products they need, according to HP.