Search via Camera Phone

CNET News has this story about the advent of mobile visual search, a technology that lets consumers with camera phones use snapshots of products to receive various freebies as well as promotions and directional advertising.

It is based on image recognition software that identifies specific patterns in images and has heretofore been used mostly in facial recognition applications for law enforcement and security. Now it has also found a home with mobile search, with cameras providing an extra tool for mobile phone users who are woefully trying to simulate Web search with 12 tiny buttons.

Like its facial recognition software forbearer, the mobile visual search application will be able to match object patterns with those scanned into a remote Internet-connected database and, in this case, send data back to the user who made a query, including music, videos, maps, etc.

For example, the technology will allow a camera phone user to snap a shot of a movie billboard, which after it is sent to a database returns not only the film trailer but also locations of nearby theaters and promotions. The user can also buy movie tickets on the spot.

This will have an adoption curve similar to any new technology, especially those associated with mobile directory applications and location-based services. But the application alleviates one of the problems foreseen with location-based services: users’ concerns of privacy and unsolicited advertising.

Many models projected of location-based services involve sending users ads and promotions when they are near certain businesses in which they’ve either previously indicated an interest (opted in) or to which algorithmic behavioral tracking has targeted them. Both come with a degree of uncertainty.

Mobile visual search on the other hand will serve up advertising (in conjunction with freebies such as movie trailers, ringtones, mp3s, etc.) to users who have indicated an explicit and immediate need that is more likely to result in a transaction. Such a transaction could be online or off, which will bring in different tracking metrics; but those will be figured out in time.

The ubiquity of camera phones (expected to reach 90 percent penetration in the U.S. in the next three years, according to CNET) and imbedded GPS receivers will also affect the adoption curve. But this could be a powerful application in the mobile search and location-based services space, given that objects throughout the physical world can be used as links to directional advertising.

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