THE FUTURE OF COLOR MANAGEMENT
As with many things in life that get faster, cheaper, and easier, color management is no exception. Fifteen years ago, color management was in its infancy. There were a limited number of products, the cost was high, it didn't always work very well, and it was difficult to fit into the workflow.
It really wasn't until the ICC was formed that color management came to exist as we know it today. The ICC represents an open set of standards that will work with many different devices and software applications, and across different computer platforms. Is the ICC perfect? Far from it. The ICC standards are in a constant state of flux. Within the ICC, there are several committees representing disparate industries, including photography, motion picture, graphics arts, and others.
Color management is being constantly improved within the various applications that we use. Is it always easy to use? Obviously, no. Even though many programs use ICC profiles, they don't always implement them in the same way. It's often not intuitive to the user how color management is really working.
For color management to be used more, it needs to become more automated and less expensive. In its current state, you have to be extremely careful and make sure that everything is just right. Manufacturers are slowly doing a better job of supplying profiles for their devices. However, the biggest stumbling block is calibration. Devices drift over time, and calibration varies from device to device. Currently, it is neither economical nor logistically possible to calibrate all devices. Most desktop printers do not have any means of calibration.
In the future, manufacturers could design printers that could calibrate themselves, and that include profiles. It should be possible for a manufacturer of a printer to produce very accurate color. (Of course, all bets will still be off if you use third-party ink and media, which will still require you to calibrate the device yourself or find someone else to do it for you.)
Monitors still need to be calibrated and profiled because they change over time. The only way to do this is to measure the color of the actual monitor itself. Years ago, Apple made a ColorSync monitor that was supposed to calibrate itself and use its own profile. Apple knew that its monitor would change over time, so the company built in circuitry that tracked the amount of time the monitor was on and compensated for color and brightness changes over time. It worked reasonably well, but it was not completely accurate. In the future, most monitors will include a built-in sensor that will keep it automatically calibrated and profiled.
Digital cameras are probably the most difficult devices to profile accurately because of limitations in the targets we use today. New targets are currently in development; instead of being a set of color swatches on paper, these targets will be an array of color lights with a much wider color and dynamic range. With this new type of target and better software to handle this greater range, it would be feasible for manufacturers to supply different profiles for their cameras. However, in the real world, there will always be different light sources and environments, and cameras will still need to be calibrated (white balanced). But maybe we'll see a method for making calibration easier in the future.
In conclusion, color management works today, but for many it doesn't work as well or as easily as you would expect. It's come a long way from the past, and it's getting better and easier all the time. As with any technology, there is not a right or wrong time to adopt color management. The best time to jump in is when you need it.