In early December, Google Goggles, a visual search app was launched for phones running on the Android mobile operation system. Goggles refers to the process of searching visually, by taking a picture of an object with your camera phone, rather than typing (or speaking) a search query using words. Google then attempts to recognize the object in the picture and return relevant search results about it as well as other information about other local businesses in the area.
Like many new features that are first released in beta, or to selected users at first (as is the case here with Goggles being offered initially only for Android phones), there are questions about what it is and how useful it ultimately will prove to be.
Visual search has tremendous potential to influence everyday life. Consider, for example, tourism. When visiting a new place you can take a picture of an object or landmark, such as a picture in a museum, and instantly receive back information about its title, who painted, what it is about, its history, significance, etc.
Another useful application is capturing and organizing information from business cards. I speak here from personal experience as one who has a collection of business cards still waiting to be organized, scanned, and indexed. Visual search recognizes text, thus it is able to scan a business card and add the captured information into your contacts. There are other tools and apps that offer to aide with capturing and scanning business card information already offered in the market, but most of them have not amassed large user bases.
Visual search technology is still in its infancy and works today on relatively well known or easy to discern objects, but not so well yet on things like food, plants, or animals. I see a future in which visual search will be capable of helping determine appropriate next moves (such as in a chess game), identifying plant species you encounter while hiking (stay away from poison ivy!), and making tourism even more enlightening.