Google Goggles

Google Goggles (free) is an ambitious Augmented Reality (AR) app that uses your Android smartphone camera as input, then tries to match the captured image with relevant search results. When you see something interesting, such as a restaurant or a landmark, and decide you want to know more about it, you can whip out your Android phone and snap a picture. Google Googles then goes to work to serve up information about the restaurant or landmark--often, however, with very mixed results. But when it is used properly, Goggles can be quite useful.

Goggles does a fair job of recognizing text (it can even translate text), bar codes, and corporate logos in photos. For instance, Goggles could interpret the logo for the ATI Sapphire brand of computer graphics cards. It was also able to recognize the UPC code on the box and return a link to the manufacturer's product page--impressive. However, Goggles couldn't figure out what to do with the UPC code for a package of Staples photo paper. While Goggles could recognize the UPC for a 15.4-inch MacBook Pro as well as the box the MacBook came in, it oddly didn't recognize the distinctive Apple logo on the box.

The app can read QR or 2-D bar codes (which represent Website URLs) and properly registers them as hyperlinks, even when they're displayed on a computer monitor.

Particularly useful as a business card scanner, Googles lets you add scanned cards directly to your Contacts with all of the proper fields filled. This is a huge time-saver at trade shows or corporate events.

If you're at a library or bookstore, Goggles is a handy companion. For example, I snapped a picture of the cover of A Practical Guide to Unix for Mac OS X Users and in two clicks I arrived at a Web page where Amazon offers the book for purchase.

Many celebrities or famous people can also be recognized by Goggles (George Orwell, for instance ), but not less-famous people such as myself. (How long will it be before Google recognizes the faces of ordinary people?)

You can also use Goggles as an AR local search. Just pan your smartphone camera around you, and POIs (Points of Interest, such as businesses or facilities) will pop into view. Click on a POI to see more information, dial its phone number directly (when available), or navigate to it.

But if you're hoping to use Goggles to identify that weird-looking bug you found in the bathtub this morning, you might be disappointed. Animals and ordinary objects generally don't match up well with search results. It will be interesting to see how quickly Google learns to recognize a wider variety of images. Even if its world view is somewhat limited, Goggles is worth downloading and taking for a spin.

This story, "Google Goggles" was originally published by PCWorld.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon