Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Web application business A9.com Nov. 2 launched a free iPhone application that leverages augmented reality to make it easier for consumers to search for information on goods Amazon offers.
Flow Powered by Amazon lets users point their iPhone's camera at the UPC codes affixed to books, DVDs, video games and millions of other products.
When Flow recognizes the product, the app shows graphical overlays with information about that product from Amazon.com, including the choice to play videos about the product or read customer reviews and ratings. Consumers may then share info about the products via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.
"This is our first step towards integrating product search technology with augmented reality," said A9.com President Bill Stasior, president of A9.com. "The integration of a live camera display, graphical overlays, and visual recognition technology creates a seamless experience for a customer looking to discover information about objects in their physical surroundings."
Think of Flow as the Amazon.com shopping experience taken out of the desktop, dropped on an iPhone with some real-world elements thrown in the mix.
Flow is something of a blend of the Google Goggles visual search application and the Google Shopper e-commerce app. Goggles is a visual search app that lets users take pictures of paintings, books, landmarks, Sudoku puzzles and other objects.
Google Shopper lets users search for products from an iPhone or Android handset by text or voice input, choose a specific product that looks useful, and compare prices at online and local retailers.
Users who are actually in a store where they find the product can scan the bar code of a product using their mobile phone's camera to retrieve more information, including pricing and other specifications.
It's expected Google will splice Goggles and Shopper and offer users some AR overlay. This would put Google in more direct competition with Amazon's Flow app, which is not available for Android handsets yet.
In fact, Flow is only available for iPhone in U.S. to date and requires iOS 4 and later versions to run.
Amazon's A9's choice to launch Flow during the holiday season makes sense, though it is questionable whether any but the most forward-looking of application adopters will try out the product. AR is new enough that most consumers will need a push over the technology cliff to try such a newfangled user experience.
What A9's Flow does underscore is yet another way Amazon and Google are competing for online real estate. Amazon has shown a strong interest in expanding its media services purview, offering and Android Appstore and preparing the Kindle Fire media tablet for launch.
Google has shown with Shopper, Google Offers daily deals and Google Wallet mobile payments that is has increasing interest in helping consumers buy goods.