Google Goggles solves sudoku
Google Goggles (left) vs a human champion (right). Guess who wins.

Sorry Sudoku fans, you’re about to be beat by anyone with a smart phone. In their latest deviation from the ‘don’t be evil’ motto, Google has taught the Google Goggles application how to solve Sudoku puzzles. Cheating has never been so easy. GG, which allows its users to search the world visually, can take pictures using your smart phone camera (Android or iOS 4.0), identify what you’re looking at, and point you to the relevant information online. The most recent version of the application has faster bar code reading speeds, identifies print ads in magazines, and can put any Sudoku champion to shame. We’ve got some great videos for you below highlighting each of the new features on Android devices, plus a video I shot myself to prove it all works on iPhone. I’ve got to tell you, being able to snap a pic of a puzzle and have it solved in seconds is pretty damn awesome… but the other two features are probably going to make a bigger impact.

No matter how good you may be at solving Sudoku puzzles, the internet is better. There are tons of sites that will help you solve an especially tricky setup, but Google Goggles does it one step quicker. All you need to do is take a picture of the puzzle and Google will send you to the solution in just two clicks. Easy as pie, and more than fast enough to defeat the most determined Sudoku enthusiast. Check out the demo video below. This sort of feels like bringing a tank to a soccer match.

There are tons of apps out there that will read barcodes. Google claims to do this faster and better. In the Android version of Goggles, the camera will automatically locate a barcode without you having to actually take a picture. In the iPhone version, you have to push the camera icon. Either way, the results are quick and easy. Google didn’t expressly publish a new video for the barcode speed improvement, but this look at Google Shopper gives you an idea of what the barcode scanning is like.

Last but not least, Google Goggles will identify print ads in major publications. Essentially, Google now has a catalog of ads it can visually search for you. According to their blog, “this new feature of Goggles is enabled for print ads appearing in major U.S. magazines and newspapers from August 2010 onwards.” In my own experimentation I had trouble finding an ad that would be recognized. Then again, the only magazines I had on hand were weird art industry publications (don’t ask). I’m guessing the range of ads will increase in the years ahead.

The ad search project was based on an early experiment in offline marketing that Google released this fall. Google says, “We’re now recognizing a much broader range of ads than we initially included in our marketing experiment. And when we recognize a print ad, we return web search results. While in the experiment, we return a specific link to an external website.” Here’s a video of the original project:

You’ll notice that all of these videos use Android phones. As a (proud) owner of an iPhone 3Gs, I’d wanted to make sure that Google Goggles would work for me as well. I shouldn’t have been concerned. Embedded in the iOS Google App, Goggles passed my little test with flying colors.

We’ve seen many of these capabilities before, especially in some of the Layar apps. Yet Google is putting all of these visual search applications in one place, and making it very easy to use. Google Goggles didn’t originate barcode scans, print ad identifications, or Sudoku solving, but they did a pretty great job conquering those fields.

As much fun as I’m going to have racing my unsuspecting friends in impromptu Sudoku competitions, there’s little doubt that the bigger news here is the barcode and print ad applications. People shop online a lot. I mean tons. People are also impulsive and will buy things on a whim. Perhaps you see where I’m going with this. Online vendors have been introducing sales apps for smart phones over the past few years. With Google Goggles (and Google Shopper) you now have a means to easily translate ads you see into purchases. The same goes for barcodes (or book covers, or CD cases, or any of the other things GG recognizes). Although Google Goggles doesn’t yet allow you to take a picture of your friend’s shoes and order them online, we’re getting closer to that ability. Universal point and shoot shopping is very near.

God help us all.

Google Goggles reads ads
Here's a better look at what print ad scanning will give you in Google Goggles.
Google Goggles reads barcodes
A better view of Google Goggle's barcode scanning.

[image credits: Google]

[source: Google Mobile Blog]