Q: What can you tell me about Google Lens and does it work as well on an iPhone?
A: Google’s image recognition technology known as ‘Lens’ came to be through multiple acquisitions over many years, including one of my favorite early augmented reality text translation apps called ‘Word Lens’.
As processing power improved in smartphones, the ability to visually recognize text, images or objects all around us in real-time became possible. Google has really accelerated the development over the past couple of years.
While it was a Google Pixel phone exclusive when it first launched in 2017, it’s now available as a stand-alone app for iPhone and Android users as well as an integrated feature in many other Google apps.
How Lens works
The basic premise of the technology simply requires you to open the app and point your smartphone camera at any object you want to know more about.
The technology is integrated into apps such as Google Assistant, Search or the Camera app built into Pixel smartphones. You can also pull up an existing image in Google Photos to use the artificial intelligence to recognize what’s in the photo.
When Google Lens is integrated into an app, look for the icon in the lower part of the screen.
If you travel to foreign countries, using Lens to translate foreign text is a game changer — it’s also built into the Google Translate app. Just open the app, point your camera at the text and tap it or select specific text by dragging the blue dots around what you want translated.
You can also look up words, add an event to your calendar, call a phone number or copy the text that it sees — a sort of optical character recognition for signs or documents that eliminates the need to manually type what you see.
The really interesting feature of Lens is its ability to provide lots of information based on the image that it sees via your camera. While it’s far from perfect, it’s a lot of fun to test its capabilities everywhere.
If you see an outfit you like or a piece of furniture that you’d like to know more about, Lens can do a lookup simply based on the image you show it.
With its latest updates, you can now point it at a restaurant menu to look up dishes, or see what’s popular from others that have posted reviews or photos via Google Maps. It’s also helpful in getting lots of details of sculptures and paintings in museums.
If you see a landmark, Lens can provide a lot more than just what it’s called. You can get user ratings, hours of operation and historical facts as well.
If you love the outdoors and often wonder what a plant or flower is while you’re out on a hike, Lens can help you identify it in real-time if you have a cellular connection or take a photo and ask later when you have a connection.
You can also use it to scan bar codes and QR codes to gather information based on the codes on just about everything that you buy in stores.