Review: Google’s Goggles are blind (for now, at least)

December 23, 2009

Google Goggles, released to much hype a few weeks ago, has the ability to allow users to simply snap a photo of something with their phone and return related search results in a standard Google results page.  Sadly, the real results are inaccurate or non-existent in far too many cases.  Google Goggles are supposed to make our search experience easier and allow for the unknown to become known just by looking at it.

The given example is someone who takes a picture of the Eiffel Tower, returning the Google search results in under a second.  Pretty nifty in theory.  The reality is that even though this example works, there is no convenience to this.  The Eiffel tower is an international icon and it is simply easier to type or speak into your Android device and get the results that you need.  If the user already knows what the item that they are looking at is, Goggles actually takes much longer.

Google Goggles would be of great use if it could recognize a plate of untouched food and return the recipe to you, or allow you to take a picture of a flower or tree and return the species, but the app comes right out and says it is weak in those areas.  How does being able to take a picture of a Coca-Cola can benefit me when it’s just easier to hit voice search and say “Coca-Cola”?  Expanding on the brand idea, I’ve taken photos of a specific model Whirlpool washing machine, including the model #, in a Goggles photo, only to receive a search result to the main Whirlpool site.  In my opinion, it should take me to user reviews, support pages, and best prices or specifications on the web for that particular model.

In addition, I’ve taken very clear photos of the Puma logo off of a sock, the New Balance “N” off of a shoe, the BMW logo off of a steering wheel, and a DOTS box of candy, and all have returned no results.  Is the database for Google Goggles not the the same as the Google images database?  If so, all of these would have been found, and if Google is creating a separate database for this app, they have quite a ways to go.

In it’s defense, Goggles is fantastic for scanning business cards, allowing you to add the results directly to your contacts, but this could have been a separate app and it surprises me that Google would have released Google Goggles in such an early and incomplete state to the public.

The bottom line is that Google has a fantastic idea on its hands.  If it can allow users to search for something they know nothing or little about based on a picture, the possibilities are endless.  But at this stage of its life, it only becomes a nuisance with inaccurate results – a mainly gimmick app used to show up your friends carrying non-Android devices.

Watch Michael’s video demo of Google Goggles that he shot when the app was first announced.

It is also worth noting that a new version of Google Goggles was released since this story was written, but that our preliminary test results show no significant recognition improvements.

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