The shopping apps keep coming as Black Friday approaches. From price predictors in the new Decide.com app to multiple 2D code readers in the Lucky magazine Shopper app, everyone has a bit of a gimmick now.
Rolling out with less fanfare -- and beta written all over it -- is the very interesting Flow app in the iOS App Store from Amazon’s A9. Those of you with long memories may recall that A9 is a bit of a skunkworks at Amazon. It works on visual search and various kinds of ad and search technologies that often run pieces of the company’s main shopping site. A9 really is the engine that drives searches at Amazon.com, for instance, and learns to serve up results based on past customer behavior.
The Flow app uses augmented reality to streamline the product look-up process. Instead of snapping a UPC or 2D mobile code and getting moves from the camera view to a search results page, Flow uses image recognition to identify the book, DVD, etc., pulling the relevant data into the live view to superimpose it on the scanned object.
Cool trick. It actually has a purpose beyond razzling and dazzling in the usual mobile way. When you scan a DVD, for instance it actually pulls onto the live view a trailer you can play on the spot. From there you can click into a Buy Now m-commerce gateway or look for other sources of the product, access the usual Amazon user reviews, pass along to others, etc.
This app actually succeeds in streamlining the mobile look-up -- not a trivial thing, by the way. As a true veteran of these shopping apps, one who bedevils my family and sales associates regularly with my array of mobile shopping helpers, I find that if you’re really trying to use the mobile device as a tool for researching products in-store, the persistent clicking, snapping, waiting and backtracking is tiresome.
In contrast, the live view in Flow is in constant search mode. You can see the little blue squares dancing around the screen looking for familiar points so you can simply keep the camera on and scan across a shelf of different items, recording in the handy visual history that takes the form of thumbnails at the bottom of the screen for easy recall. Again, the model is to pull most of what you need into that one screen and let it collect data from the environment. This gets us just a bit closer to AR that feels more functional than just fun.