Verizon offers Color a second chance with video partnership

After Color’s much publicized flop last year, it would seem unlikely that anyone would look to the company as a big-time partner. But that’s just what Verizon Wireless (s vz) plans to do. It will offer its customers the chance to use an enhanced version of Color, which will enable live video streaming with audio for the first time and double the existing frame rate.

The exclusive partnership is just the first step for Color, which will later this year embed its app even closer to the hardware of Verizon’s 4G phones, allowing users to broadcast in live 720p at first and potentially 1080p in about a year. Users will be able to pick out particular frames from the video that can be shared as photos. That, said Color’s CEO and co-founder Bill Nguyen, will enable users to experience live moments in high-quality video and will change the way people think about sharing through pictures and video.

“What you really want to get to is a point where the video camera can show what you’re seeing and act like a teleporter for people,” said Nguyen, who sold his previous start-up Lala to Apple (s aapl).

30 seconds of live video

Color launched in March last year as a proximity-based photo-sharing network, but the service never caught on, in part because it was trying to create a new network for people to use. The company changed course in September, announcing that it was integrating its app into Facebook. That’s when it showed off the ability for users to share 30 seconds of live but silent video to their friends, who would get notified when a user was broadcasting live. Users can view live video on Facebook or their Color app or they can come back to the video and view it if they missed it live.

Technically, anyone with a 3G or 4G Verizon phone will be able to make use of the enhanced Color features. The app is available in the App Store or Google Play or users can call “COLOR” on their phones and get a text message link for downloading the app. Verizon is looking at pre-loading the app on select phones.

Showing off the network

Verizon’s strategy is to highlight examples of what faster 4G wireless networks can allow people to do, reminiscent of the work the carriers did to show off 3G networks years ago. And it’s also harkens back to the big push Verizon gave to the Droid lineup of phones, which became a big seller thanks to Verizon’s marketing muscle. There should be lot of similar marketing support for the Color integration as well.

Lewis said we can expect more partnerships in the future aimed at highlighting Verizon’s network. The company last year opened an app innovation center in San Francisco to encourage more app development.

Photos vs. video

Nguyen said he was inspired to reach out to Verizon because of the emergence of high-end video cameras like the RED digital camera, which can shoot in 4K and can produce high quality still shots as well. That helps solve the question of how to capture moments because one device can produce both video and stills, he said. Since photos are still preserved, it opens up the potential for live video to become more of a unit of sharing. Ultimately, he believes this type of live video will displace pictures as the way we preserve moments. This is what Nguyen wrote in a blog post about the news:

There’s something special about live. It’s spontaneous. You never know what to expect so you watch in anticipation. Live is also shared. A feeling of community, you’re experiencing something in real-time with other people. Family reunions, concerts, or ball games, we come together for live moments.

Questions ahead

There are still a lot of questions to be answered. It’s unclear which phones will get the deeper integration of Color, though it will likely be quad-core Android (s goog) devices. It’s also not how Facebook will feel about the upgrades to Color, which will mean a lot more storage of videos and pictures. Also, we still have to see how well Nguyen and his team of 50 engineers can pull this all off. Lewis said some of the more ambitious plans are somewhat experimental so there’s no guarantee that it will happen exactly like Nguyen is describing.

But it’s still an intriguing future that Nguyen is proposing. I’m personally interested in sharing more live video but I’m not sure I’m ready to have that replace photo sharing. With photo sharing, I get to self-edit and choose what images go out. Live video sharing means you don’t know what people will see at the end of those 30 seconds. It could be completely boring or very embarrassing. Of course, you can choose to delete after broadcasting. But the idea that we can move to a model where the distinctions between video and photos get blurred has a certain logic to it. Why capture just one or the other when we can capture both?

If this works, this could be a big turnaround for Color, which still hasn’t shed its rap as an overhyped bubble startup with its $41 million in funding. Though Color still has a lot to prove, its second act is proving more promising thanks to a big assist from Verizon.