Google Goggles Lets Your Phone Turn Photos Into Information (Video)

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The real and digital world have been intermingling with all the reserve of college students at an open bar and now we’re seeing some truly revolutionary offspring from their mix. Google Goggles is a new application that allows you to perform visual searches using photos taken on Android phones. Taking a quick snapshot of a landmark will yield information on its history and upcoming tours. You can gain similar information by photographing famous artwork, company logos, wine bottles, or book covers. Using GPS and compass tracking, Google Goggles lets you scan your vicinity with the Android camera and find nearby restaurants, transportation, and other information you’ve come to expect from the search engine. You can even snap a picture of a friend’s business card and Google Goggles will read the pertinent text, sort it into the relevant fields, and save it as an electronic file on your phone. Check out all these applications in the official video from Google after the break.

Google Goggles lets you perform visual searches using the camera on your Android phone.
Google Goggles lets you perform visual searches using the camera on your Android phone.

Google Goggles is part of a larger trend to map digital information onto real world objects and places using smart phones. We’ve already seen how the Dutch company Layar has created an augmented reality application that turns user based content into visible objects when you look through the camera of an Android phone. iPhone’s Daily Burn application can convert pictures of bar codes into readily digestible information. These are simply the applications with the most press, there are many others with similar functions pursuing the same goal: let users turn images into info. This trend can only become more pronounced as smart phones become more advanced. With Google’s entrance into the field, the might and power of the search engine is likely to fuel the merger of the digital and real world. Eventually we’ll all carry devices which turn our environment into a visible extension of the Internet.

As the executive cartoons in the video mention, Google Goggles has some serious limitations in its current form. The greatest of these is that GG is only available on Android phones, specifically the 1.6+ versions. That leaves BlackBerry, iPhone, and other smart phones unable to access the application…for now. Even Android users have boundaries on what they can reasonably accomplish. Google Goggles does not handle animals, plants, or foods. Understandably, objects without a standardized appearance aren’t going to be easy to input into a visual search engine.

There are also known issues with this version of GG. Putting the phone to sleep while Google Goggles is accessing the camera will continue to drain the battery. When viewing places, location information is tied to current GPS signals. This means that you not only have to make sure that you have a GPS signal (won’t work indoors in many cases) but that changing your location will cause previous searches for to have different results. These issues are actually pretty reasonable considering the impressive functionality of that portion of the App.

Those concerned with Google’s seemingly endless hunger for your search history will be pleased to learn that GG allows you to choose whether or not search queries are saved. Even if you choose to store your searches there’s a limit (~100), and beyond that point new searches will bump old searches out of the buffer.

I don’t own an Android phone so I’m left on the outside of the Android market looking in and wondering if I should be jealous. Google Goggles is undoubtedly an amazing application of a visual search engine, but as with so many other innovations these days, it may take a while before it is adopted by the public at large. As cool as it would be to use GG to find a nearby restaurant, I’m not sure how often I’d choose it over the Yelp App, or other such listings. The more exotic parts of GG (identifying landmarks, books, and art) are equally cool, but not on my daily roster. But that’s just me, I’m sure there will be many others who find that GG matches their needs exactly. Those Android users out there should check out Google Goggles and let us know if it’s worth the hype.

[photo and video credit: Google Labs]