Google Now Lets You Use Images to Search For Things You Don’t Know How to Google

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Like most tech savvy folks, we pride ourselves on our ability to successfully Google pretty much anything. Still, there are times when something is, for the lack of a better word, un-Googleable. Maybe it’s a doodad that you found in your kitchen that you’d like to replace but don’t know what it’s called. Or you want to find out if a shirt you took a picture of comes in a different color. To combat this, Google now lets you combine words with images when searching for things. Previously you could search with a photo, but this is the first time you can add words to your query to enhance the results.

Google’s results for when I asked for my Fractal Design case in white.

According to The Verge, Google is now rolling out this feature in beta for its Google App. It’s available on both Android and iOS. It’s part of the Google Lens technology that the company first revealed in September of last year. The process is quite simple. First, fire up the app, tap the camera icon, and either take a photo or upload one. From there it determines what the object is and offers several “tabs” such as shopping, search, dining, text, etc. The neat part is you can take a photo of something, then tap “add to search” and modify your results. For example I took a photo of my Fractal Design case, which it identified as a black PC, but not a Fractal case. I then added “white” to the results, and it showed me a variety of white ATX cases. It should be noted that this technology works best on things you can’t describe, or you can only describe in vague terms. It’s also clearly not perfect. It correctly identified my Logitech G502 mouse, but when I added “wireless” to the search it just showed me random mice. I also uploaded a photo I found of ribs, and it thought they were warble flies. Eww.

Though this new feature is mostly handy for shopping, Google reps said the potential uses go far beyond that. In an interview with The Verge, one of the reps said she took photos of fingernail paint jobs and added “tutorial.” This let her find a how-to on painting her nails in a similar way. It doesn’t seem to work too well with PCs though. I uploaded a photo of a CPU and added “overclock” to the query. However, it just showed me pictures of CPU-Z screens for overclocked CPUs instead of a how-to.

Still, the feature holds a lot of promise for the future, as it’s part of an “AI revolution” in search. Search Director Lou Wang told The Verge the service will eventually expand to video as well, and not just those from Google-owned YouTube. It also doesn’t limit search results to companies it’s partnered with for shopping, but rather any site it can index.

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