Google is making your smartphone camera smarter

by Haadi Bakar
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There weren’t any big gadget announcements, but a lot of the stuff presented at this week’s Google I/O Developer Conference were mainly on the search giant’s push into augmented reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence.

The big draw from the conference was Google Lens, which in a nutshell, is Google Search for your smartphone camera.

Using AR technology, Google Lens lets you use your phone’s camera to search for information. It uses image recognition to identify objects that appear in your camera.

For instance, if you point your phone camera at a flower, Google Lens will immediately tell you what type of flower it is. It’s handy when you’re out in the woods and you want to find out if a particular plant is safe to pick.

If you hold up a book, it will tell you who the author is. Hold your camera up to a restaurant and it will show you customer reviews and pricing. All this is done entirely in real-time.

Google Lens has other neat tricks too. The conference demonstrated how a user at a friend’s place aims his phone camera on a router  sticker with the log-in details and Google Lens automatically connects the user’s phone to the wi-fi.

It’s by far the most useful application of AR. While other AR-driven apps let you take selfies with cute animal filters or help you catch Pokemon, Google Lens makes search for information online more accessible than it already is – using only your phone camera, typing words on a search box is so last year.

Google Lens isn’t a standalone app. The search giant is making the technology available across all its existing apps, such as Google Photos and Google Assistant.

Google has been experimenting with AR for quite some time. A while ago, the company launched Word Lens, which lets users translate a foreign language simply by holding their phone camera to a text or sign.

And several years back, there was Google Goggles, which analyses pictures of landmarks, paintings and barcodes (not real-time like Google Lens). And does anybody still remember Google Glass? That one actually had AR built into a pair of eyeglasses, though it didn’t live past its prototype phase.

Google Lens seems to be the culmination of all the groundwork laid by Google, and it’s looking like it’s going to be revolutionary.

Apart from Google Lens, Google I/O also made several announcements on other Google products, such as an upgraded Google Home, a smarter Google Assistant and a sneak peak at the next Android OS, codenamed O (Oreo? Oatmeal Cookie? Orange Soda?).

Google also teased its upcoming standalone virtual reality headset initiative, which the company is currently working with HTC and Lenovo. These new VR headsets will work without tethering to a smartphone.

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