Android Just Got Smarter With Google Goggles 1.6

Google Goggles has always been a great testament to how useful smartphones are. Advertised features include the ability take a photo of a French menu and have it instantly translate to English, or search something simply by taking a photo of it.

Recently, Google pushed out an update to Google Goggles on Android, adding some interesting new features in the process. Should you opt in, Google Goggles can automatically analyse all photos taken in your phone’s camera app in the background, without you needing to specifically tell the app to do so. It looks very interesting, to say the least.

Recap: How Google Goggles Works

You may be familiar with Android’s Voice Actions, which allow you to search Google by saying aloud what you’d like to find. Google Goggles effectively performs the same service for images; it can find web pages that contain the image, or extract the text from a photograph.

There are a number of scenarios in which this can be useful. Imagine recieving a business card and wanting to send an email to it’s sender, Google Goggles can read the text and offer up the email address. Likewise, heading to France and recieving a menu that’s illegible to you can easily be solved by pulling out you smartphone, photographing it and having Google Translate translate it into your native tongue.

Translating menus is one awesome use for Google Goggles.

We should point out that Google Goggles doesn’t have a 100% success rate, so there will be times in which you don’t find any results for your image.

Enhancements With 1.6

The 1.6 update brings some nice, convenient and useful updates to the app. The main addition is automatic analysing within the stock camera app. Now, if you opt in to the service, Google Goggles will automatically start analysing your images in the background. If they find a match, you’ll be notified in your phone’s notification tray.

With this new opt-in feature in Goggles, you can simply photograph an image using your phone’s camera, and Goggles will work in the background to analyze your image. If your photo contains items that Goggles can recognize, the app will notify you.

The feature is disabled by default, and must be turned on in the app’s settings under “Search by Camera”. This is likely because Google Goggles uses data on each query, around 100kB per image, potentially meaning capture-happy users will eat up their data fast. (Plus, because some users won’t be comfortable with the idea of sending all their photos to a Google server!) You can limit it to just querying whilst on a WiFi network, but I can’t help but think this distracts from the whole point of instaneous searches. The main use of Goggles is when you’re out and about, generally when you’re not on a WiFi network.

A Google Goggles update appearing in the notifications tray.


So when would you use the Search by Camera feature?

Imagine going to a bookstore and wanting to essentially “bookmark” a book to look up prices online. With Goggles, you can just take a photo of the book with the regular old camera and then check the queries out when they’re done.

Alternatively, think about going to an art gallery and wanting to research some of the paintings later, when you get home. All you’ve got to do is pull out your camera and snap some shots and let Goggles work in the background.

Final Thoughts

Goggles still needs to work on making its queries work more of the time, but these enhancments are nice, nevertheless. For the moment, these features are Android-only; this might be credited to the background APIs on Apple devices that wouldn’t let Goggles perform these type of searches seamlessly outside of the app, let alone be integrated with Apple’s stock camera app.

This is a nice step for Android and a definite plus over iOS, especially if you love your camera. It’s available as a free update on Android devices from 2.1 and up.