None of this starts well. There is an explanatory video at the dedicated Web page, but the home page for this new app is cursory at best. In fact, the site is done in such "if-you-don't already-understand-this-then-what-are-you-doing-here" Googledy-Geek shorthand that the pop-up mobile scan code (which I gather pushes the app to your phone) comes with no instructions. I already know this stuff, but I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do on the code, or for what reason.
Google Shopper is designed to let you scan a retail product for which it performs an image search. The result brings back pricing, product info, product specs, reviews, etc. It is supposed to work especially well with flat media like book, DVDs, and CD game covers. Anyone who has used the Amazon or Barnes and Noble apps will find this familiar. Google is trying to widen the breadth of products it can recognize, and it has added voice search to the optional input modes.
I am not entirely sure why Google decided to separate this product from the Google Goggles general image search. It seems to me there should be a toggle between two modes, general and product search, in the same app. Now you have three discrete Google search apps on the Android deck.
And oddly enough, Goggles, which I am not thrilled with anyway, seems to do a better job at image recognition than Google Shopper. I am being puckish, I know, but the Shopper app I was using on the Verizon Droid phone couldn't recognize the Verizon Droid package itself. It couldn't (or wouldn't) recognize an iPhone. It shrugged over several vitamin bottles and a very recent Playstation 3 game box. Generally, I needed to go to the UPC code to do the scan, and even then some items like the vitamins just didn't register. Goggles got me closer faster to most queries. Voice recognition actually worked better than the scan modes. In many cases even when the engine did get a hit, the information was incomplete, especially reviews.
Arguably, ShopSavvy on the Android, RedLaser on the iPhone and Amazon and B&N apps deliver more reliable results, and certainly more orderly experiences and content. Must everything in Google resemble a messy Google search engine result? ShopSavvy, for instance, parses out local vendors, but the Google results are just pushing you to order online from the usual suspects. Really, there is a physical world beyond the digital domain, the ghost in the Google machine seems to be saying to us.
What I find curious about the Google Shopper model is how poorly it integrates with the rest of my Google existence. Yet Google can partly get away with underperforming its predecessors in the market here. At least it has the opportunity to knit a mediocre app into a broader history and online relationship than I have with any of these other mobile-centric app developers -- not a small thing at all.
Still, one of the strengths of the Amazon apps is that I can recall the image search history on the Web when I log into the Amazon account. This is the way most people really will do product research -- across the platforms.
At the very least, Google Shopper should be logging me into my account and synchronizing my searches so that my product search history is available to my online experience. Why should I have to email a search hit to myself so I can research it more thoroughly back on the desktop? I am using the same search engine in both places, after all.
And talk about an opportunity to proliferate its Google Checkout payment system. I already rely on my micro-payment account on the Android OS to make app purchases, a process that works out as seamlessly as the iPhone's billing system. If Google is looking for a revenue model for the Shopper app, then it should try planting some of those blue shopping cart icons next to the results. When I ran a desktop search on the same game found via the app (but only after a few scans) the "shopping" results all had Google Checkout vendors available for a one-click purchase.
I am not sure what Google is up to in some of these early mobile app experiments. If its strategists are aiming to own mobile, then why squander their natural advantage and let so many large and small players in the market look so much better at it? In this case, maybe Google is the new Microsoft.