Google's Mobile Labs crew Feb. 18 launched Google Shopper, which lets users comparison-shop for merchandise with their Android phones.
People use Shopper by calling up the app on their Android phone and pointing their phone's camera at books, CDs, DVDs, and video games, along with most barcodes to get search results about those items on Google.
There's no need to actually press a button or take a picture of the product. Users then tap on search results to get pricing, reviews and specs.
For products without barcodes, or for times when users aren't actually in a store, users may speak the name of the product they're looking for into the phone to get results. Google engineer Daniel Switkin noted:
"Use Shopper to make smart decisions about what to buy, what price to pay and where to buy it. You can star items for later and share them with friends. Shopper also saves your history so you'll always have product and price information at your fingertips, even when you don't have a signal."
See Switkin demo Google Shopper here:
Interestingly, Shopper appears to do much what Google Goggles does. Goggles is the search engine's visual search app that lets users snap pictures of objects, such as books, CDs, DVDs and locations with their Android phones to see search results on those objects.
Shopper is clearly focused on comparison-shopping, but the line between Shopper and Goggles, which is expanding to include language translation, is a blurry one.
I e-mailed Google for comment about the distinction and will update when I hear back. Update: Here's Google's confirmation, which supports my thinking about the Goggles technology being involved, albeit without much clarity:
"Google Shopper uses some of the same machine vision technology used in Google Goggles."
Interestingly, the Shopper app comes a few days after Google hired a former eBay executive as vice president of commerce.
While it's not immediately clear what shape that role will take for the public, it's safe to say Google is quite serious about becoming a more active player in commerce on the Web.