Visual Search With Google Goggles

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As I said last month, each of you might find one or two apps for a smartphone that get you all excited – the apps that you show people to demonstrate how cool your new phone is.

I found mine. Google Goggles amazes me. If you’ve got an Android phone, you’ve got to check this out. It’s a free download from the Android Marketplace. (There have been vague hints that it will eventually be ported to iPhones and other platforms but don’t hold your breath for that.)

Google Goggles lets you use pictures taken with your phone to search the web. Google’s description:

It’s ideal for things that aren’t easy to describe in words. There’s no need to type or speak your query – all you have to do is open the app, snap a picture, and wait for your search results.

Google Goggles works better with certain types of queries. Try taking pictures of books & DVDs, landmarks, logos, contact info, artwork, businesses, products, barcodes, or text. Currently, it’s not so good when taking pictures of animals, plants, cars, furniture, or apparel.

When you start the program, the camera turns on. Snap a picture and it’s immediately uploaded to Google, which then compares it to, roughly, every other picture in the world. Google also captures your location if your phone’s GPS is turned on.

I took a picture of a book. In two seconds, I had links to Amazon and online reviews.

I took a picture of a bar code on my computer screen from a review of a game for Android devices. In two seconds, I had the link on the phone to download the game from the Marketplace.

Logos. Art. Wine. Products. With a click, information fills the screen about whatever the phone is pointed at.

If you’re pointing your phone at a business, you’ll get information and reviews of the business, with links to contact information, business details, reviews, and more. You might get a button at the bottom of the screen before you snap a picture, just from the GPS information.

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The development team is still working on new tricks. A few days ago they added a remarkable translation feature. Take a picture of text in another language on a sign, in a menu, in a book. If Goggles recognizes the text, it will give you the option to translate. Supply the source and destination languages and you’ve got an instant translation of the French menu or the Spanish street sign. At the moment it handles English, French, Italian, German and Spanish, but the team says they’ll get non-Latin languages eventually – Chinese, Hindi, Arabic.

There’s no limit to where this could go. At the moment Goggles doesn’t do much with food, plants, or animals, but those are all solvable problems in time. Developers say the app will soon be able to recognize plants by their leaves, or even suggest chess moves by seeing an image of the board.

This is where technology turns to magic. My gut told me that a smartphone’s ability to know our location would lead to interesting developments but this still took me by surprise. It’s an amazing world, isn’t it?