QR Codes And Google Lens

James Gray

February 12 2019

QR Google Lens Google

Google Lens is an awesome example of an app that employs artificial intelligence for the benefit of a wide consumer audience. The very fact that Google Lens identifies just about any object you point your cell phone camera at and then delivers content about that object is pretty remarkable, and just a little bit scary if you stop to think about it...What makes Google Lens so great, and bodes well for its broad adoption is that it is fun, bordering on addicting. I have easily spent hours pointing my camera at things to marvel at the results. When I pointed at the business card of our local cheese shop, a single location, family retailer, Lens picked it up immediately and pointed me to their website. When I pointed it at a single serve bottle of a little known brand of liquid pain reliever that I got in a bag of gifts from a local charity swim last year, it came back with the exact item. But Lens does have its limitations. For example, when I pointed my camera at the steering wheel of my car, the results identified the brand correctly but offered me information on a different model. When I pointed at a can of Polar Seltzer water, Lens returned the trailer for an upcoming Netflix movie named “Polar.” These discrepancies were a bit surprising and if the premise and general functionality of the app wasn’t so mind blowing, they would have been annoying. With the incredible rate of technological advances we’ve witnessed over the last 10 years, it seems we are becoming a bit jaded and just don’t like to wait or be pointed in the wrong direction.

AI has some learning to do

That brings me to one feature of Google Lens that I think is really great; its ability to read QR Codes. If you haven’t noticed, QR Codes are popping up just about everywhere and are quickly becoming a part of everyday life. Did you see one pop up on the TV screen during the Macy’s Day Parade? How about the Super Bowl? If you haven’t noticed them around, just start looking. You will. QR Codes are great because of their ability to correctly and on demand deliver contextually specific content. For example, a QR Code on a drink can can direct consumers to a list of ingredients or give them the ability to order more. A QR Code placed on product packaging can deliver a video on how to use or assemble the product properly. A QR Code next to a painting in a museum or a statue or historical monument can provide visitors with multimedia content about the object that otherwise could not be delivered without typing a specific and often difficult URL in a browser. The uses are seemingly endless. I was standing in line at the prepared foods section of our local supermarket the other day and thought how cool it would be if they had a QR Code next to every item that led to a list of ingredients. From a marketing perspective, this functionality has untold value, a fact which is just now being realized because reading QR Codes is being made easier by the likes of Google and Apple. Previously, users needed to download a QR Code reader app to read QR Codes. While mostly free, these apps are often filled with ads and other content that makes using them frustrating if not downright painful. That all started to change when Apple integrated a QR Code reader into its camera in iOS 11. Following close behind, Android did the same with its Pie (9) operating system. So now anyone running a mobile device with one of these operating systems or newer can read a QR Code simply by opening their camera and pointing. While this is super slick and is driving the use of QR Codes across US, Google Lens actually surpases this benchmark on the wow factor meter because of its ability to identify multiple items in its line of sight and then allow users to select which they wish to interact with. And the functionality from a user perspective is easily as impressive as the camera integrations. As for QR Codes vs. AI driven object identification, until the machines mature a little more, I’m always going with the QR Code because I know it will take me to exactly what I need to know and/or do. Why is that important? While I’m sure Polar is going to be great movie, I really had no interest in learning about it while I was looking at a can of Polar Seltzer.

Tap the circles to access content in Google Lens

The potential uses cases for these two technologies are limited only by one’s imagination. Seriously, we’ve thought of about 1,000 different use cases ourselves and keep coming up with more every day. We are of the belief that Apple's focus on QR Codes and NFC and making it super easy for consumers to interact with them will be the final catalyst and validation marker that pushes both into the mainstream in the US.