A Hands-On Tour: Google Goggles Visual Search

Mobile searching has just gotten way, way cooler. Google unveiled its new Google Goggles visual search tool for Android on Monday, bringing a high-tech twist to accessing information on the go.

Google Goggles: An Introduction

Google Goggles Visual Search
Google Goggles -- not to be confused with Google Mail Goggles, the company's inebriated e-mailing preventer -- lets you search from your cell phone simply by snapping a photo. Want more info on a product? Take its picture. Need info about a business? Photograph the storefront. Put simply, this thing packs some serious power, and its capabilities stretch far.

Google Goggles currently supports photo-based searching for (take a deep breath): books, DVDs, landmarks, logos, contact info, artwork, businesses, products, barcodes, and plain text.

Here's how it works: When you capture an image, Google breaks it down into object-based signatures. It then compares those signatures against every item it can find in its image database. Within seconds, it returns the results to you, ordered by rank. Some results are returned before you even snap a photo, too, thanks to seamless integration of GPS and compass functionality.

But enough on the nuts and bolts. Let's put search-by-sight to the test.

Hands-On With Google Goggles

I started out with something easy: a book. After opening the app, I followed the instructions and took a photo. Google Goggles started analyzing the image. Sure enough, seconds later, I had the results.

Just from seeing the book's cover, Google Goggles gave me the full name and links to compare prices or even preview the text. Below that, it returned regular search results for the title. Not too shabby. (Image)

Google Goggles

The app worked equally well with a DVD: I photographed the cover of Swingers and received information about the movie, followed by pages of relevant Web results. (Image)

Google Goggles

How about something a bit more involved? I grabbed a nearby bag of chips to see if Google Goggles could grab the logo. Once again, no problems: The app saw that the chips were made by Lays and gave me a screen of info about the company. (Image)

Google Goggles

Even an obscure product like a tub of protein powder seems to work without so much as a hiccup. Google Goggles matched the actual photo to an online image from a retailer's Web site, then gave me ample info about the stuff. (Image)

Google Goggles

Next up: art. Luckily, I had a book of Magritte paintings in my office. I flipped open to a random page and took a photo. Google Goggles got it. (Image)

Google Goggles

The Google gang says the app can detect and detail wine, so I figured it was worth a shot. This one took a couple of tries -- the first bottle I attempted didn't work -- but Goggles was able to pull up details about the second label I shot. (Image)

Google Goggles

Text does the trick, too, whether you're looking at a business card or just words on a page. I tried capturing my name off of a recent invoice. Goggles brought up a list of Web search results for me, along with contact info and the option to add myself into my phone's directory.

Google Goggles: Landmarks and Places

Major landmarks are well within Goggles' sights. I don't have one nearby, so I fired up my imagination, photographed a photo of the Eiffel Tower, and sat back to see what'd happen. Goggles figured it out and linked me to the landmark information. (Image)

Google Goggles

Goggles uses data from the phone's GPS and compass to deliver live augmented-reality results as well. You just point your phone at any location -- a business, for example -- and the app places a button with the business name at the bottom of your screen. Tap the button, and Goggles loads info about the business from a Web search. No snapshot is needed.

Even just pointing the phone in a general direction will cause AR results to display. Looking out my office window through my phone, I saw a button that said "20" at the bottom of the screen. When I tapped it, a list of nearby businesses popped up, each with a clickable link containing contact details, reviews, and other information.

Google Goggles: The Big Picture

Right now, Google Goggles doesn't work well with food, cars, plants, or animals. But that's going to change. Developers say the app will soon be able to recognize plants by their leaves, even suggest chess moves by "seeing" an image of your current board.

"We are only scratching the surface of the visual search technology," Google's engineers promise.

If you're worried about privacy, Google Goggles gives you two options: You can discard all of your images as you go, or you can save them in a searchable history. Selecting the searchable history option makes the images available to Google, separate from any personal data, for the purpose of improving the service. Aside from that, Google indicates, the Goggles app retains your IP address and Google account details for five weeks in order to help "keep the service stable and secure."

The Google Goggles app is now available as a free download in the Android Market. You can see more of its features in action via Google's official Goggles video. There's also a help section set up on Google's mobile support site.

JR Raphael is co-founder of geek-humor site eSarcasm. You can keep up with him on Twitter: @jr_raphael.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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