Google is ushering in some big changes to smartphone cameras with updates to Google Lens—giving users the power to identify objects and text in real time. The new features were unveiled at I/O 2018 amongst a host of other products, but the update only recently began rolling out in late May 2018.
Google Lens is an augmented reality (AR) application that uses a devices camera to identify text, products, books, media, places, and barcodes. Objects that are identified once will be marked so that you can quickly identify them again if you need to. Using Google Lens, you can even identify furniture or clothes and find things that match the decor or style.
"Say you're at a restaurant and see the name of a dish you don't recognize—Lens will show you a picture to give you a better idea," Google said earlier this month. "This requires not just recognizing shapes of letters, but also the meaning and context behind the words. This is where all our years of language understanding in Search help."
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Certain features within Google Lens will be ideal for business professionals seeking to get a quick summary of a document or speedy style suggestions.
Through the smart text selection, users can identify and recognize text as well as copy and paste it into other documents, according to the Google Lens website. The app can pull up photos in reference to words on a page or dictionaries for definitions. According to a Google blog post, Lens is able to do all of this in real time by using "on-device machine learning and the use of cloud TPUs to to identify billions of words, phrases, places, and things in a split second."
Additionally, the app can perform near real-time test translation similar to what Google Translate can do. While not always a perfect translation, it could help business travelers in a foreign country find their next sales meeting or maybe make it to their airport on time.
Google Lens is now woven into the smartphone camera itself in certain devices, and has been completely redesigned to help users navigate its new features. It was originally released only on Google's Pixel phone, but is now being added to smartphones from BQ, Motorola, Asus, TCL, Xiaomi, HMD/Nokia, Transsion, Sony Mobile, OnePlus, LG, and others, the post said.
TechRepublic's Andy Wolber said in January that Google Lens could be revolutionary in that it may reduce our need for more apps as it adds AI intelligence to camera features.
"Google Lens may have significant implications for developers and companies. Developers of smart camera-reliant apps need to make sure to create value beyond object or element recognition," Wolber wrote. "I anticipate that developers and companies will build apps that integrate image recognition tasks into workflows: pick up your phone, point-and-talk to recognize a product, change a status in a system, and push a notification to a colleague."
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Google Lens allows users to point their smartphones at an object or text and get information on it in real time, and has been redesigned to improve navigation.
- Google Lens is being expanded beyond Google Pixel phones and will soon be available widely on devices from BQ, Motorola, Asus, TCL, Xiaomi, and more.
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- Google Pixel 2 review: No frills, but a great camera and fast Android updates (ZDNet)
- Google Lens: The potential of a smarter camera (TechRepublic)
Jonathan Greig has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jonathan Greig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.