- Stephen Lam/Reuters
Google may have announced lots of new hardware on Wednesday, but the software it demonstrated might actually be cooler.
Among the new offerings: Google Lens, a visual search engine that will come loaded on every new Pixel 2 phone.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai first announced the feature back in May, but we got a more comprehensive look at how it works on Wednesday.
Google says that for now, Lens is just a “preview,” which may be Google-speak for a beta version. And since it lives in the Pixel 2, most people won’t be able to try it out. But Lens is still an exciting peek at what’s to come.
Lens basically works like a “smart” magnifying glass. Using the Pixel’s camera, you can look up things like artwork, landmarks, and movies – all you have to do is point your camera at the object and press the Lens button in your camera app. Lens can then identify what it is you’re looking at and pull up relevant information for you to peruse.
Another cool feature of Lens: You can point it at something like the flyer above and it will automatically detect a URL, email address, or phone number without you having to manually type it in. If you scan over an email address, for example, Google will prompt you to send that person a message using Gmail.
And Google said it plans on adding features on an ongoing basis, including the ability to use Lens inside Google Assistant. This could mean the Lens feature will eventually arrive on iOS devices, since you can currently use Google Assistant on your iPhone.
Here’s what Lens looks like in action:
Google Lens is similar to a feature Pinterest introduced last February, also called “Lens.” But Pinterest Lens has a slightly different focus from Google Lens: inspiration.
Pinterest Lens lets you point your camera at a pair of shoes, for instance, you’ll be able to see similar styles on Pinterest and get ideas for how to wear them. Pinterest’s Lens feature is less focused on identifying an exact item than it is on showing you similar or related items.
Still, there’s a clear trend in technology like this: visual search tools that can “Shazam” the world around you.