What Is Google Lens?

Use images to Google it

Google Lens is an app that analyses images to bring up relevant information and perform other specific tasks. The app is integrated with Google Photos, Google Assistant, and the built-in Android camera app, and it leverages artificial intelligence to work better and faster than earlier image recognition apps like the defunct Google Goggles.

In addition to integration with apps like Google Assistant on select phones, Google Lens is also available as a standalone app that is compatible with a wide range of devices.

Google Lens Is a Visual Search Engine

google lens in action

Search has always been Google's flagship feature, and Google Lens expands on that core competency in new and exciting ways. At a very basic level, Google Lens is a visual search engine, which means it can analyze the visual data of an image and then perform a number of different tasks based on the contents of the image.

While some regular search engines are capable of performing a reverse image search, which involves analyzing an image and then searching for similar content on the web, Google Lens goes a whole lot further than that.

One example is that if you take a picture of a landmark and then tap the Google Lens icon, it will recognize the landmark and pull up relevant information from the internet.

Depending on the specific landmark, this information can include a description, reviews, and even contact information if it's a business.

How Does Google Lens Work?

Google lens icon on Android

Google Lens is integrated into Google Photos and Google Assistant, so you can access it directly from those apps. If your phone is capable of using Google Lens, you'll see an icon in your Google Photos app. Tapping that icon activates Lens.

When you use Google Lens, an image is uploaded from your phone to Google's servers, and that's when the magic starts. Using artificial neural networks, Google Lens analyses the image to determine what it contains.

Once Google Lens figures out the content and context of a picture, the app provides you with information or gives you the option to perform a contextually appropriate action.

For instance, if you see a book sitting on your friend's coffee table, snap a picture, and tap the Google Lens icon, it will automatically determine the author and title of the book, plus provide you with reviews and other details.

Using Google Lens to Capture Email Addresses and Other Information

Google lens reading info from a photo of a poster

Google Lens is also able to recognize and transcribe text, like business names on signs, phone numbers, and even email addresses.

This is sort of like old-school optical character recognition (OCR) that you may have used to scan documents in the past, but with far more utility and a higher level of accuracy, thanks to help from Google DeepMind.

To transcribe text:

  1. Aim your camera at something that includes text.
  2. Press the Google Lens button.

Depending on what you took a picture of, pressing the Google Lens button will bring up different options:

  • Call phone numbers.
  • Send email to email addresses.
  • Add phone numbers or email addresses to your contacts.
  • Copy the text to paste elsewhere or run a search.

Shopping With Google Lens

google lens shopping links

Google

Google Lens also makes shopping a whole lot easier. If you find yourself out in the world, and you see an outfit you love, or the decor at a friend's house gives you some good ideas, just point Lens at whatever you're interested in.

If you point Lens at items like clothing or decor, it's able to identify those items, or visually similar items, and provide vital information like reviews and even shopping links.

Google Lens and Google Maps

google lens google maps augmented reality

Google 

One of the coolest and most useful implementations of Lens is its integration with Google Maps. This integration creates a futuristic augmented reality experience that can provide real-time Street View directions and pull up information about local businesses.

This type of augmented reality isn't really designed for use when you're driving, but it can be tremendously useful when walking around an unfamiliar city.

Google Lens and Google Assistant

Google assistant screenshots

Google Assistant is, as the name implies, Google's virtual assistant that comes built right into Android phones, Google Home, and many other Android devices. It's also available as an app for iPhones.

Assistant is primarily a way to interact with your phone by talking to it, but it also has a text option that allows you to type requests.

By speaking the wake word, which is "Okay, Google" by default, you can have Google Assistant place phone calls, check your appointments, search the internet, or even activate your phone's flashlight function.

Google Assistant integration was announced with the initial Google Lens reveal. This integration allows you to use Lens directly from Assistant if your phone is capable of doing so, and it works by activating a live feed from the phone's camera.

When you tap a part of the image, Google Lens analyzes it, and Assistant provides information or performs a contextually relevant task.

What Else Can Lens Do?

google lens playing music from a concert poster
Google Lens can perform context-specific tasks, like playing music when you point it at a concert poster.

As Lens learns more and becomes smarter, Google is able to add more and more functionality to the app. As a visual search engine, the most basic task that it's able to perform is to identify an object and return Google search results that are relevant to that object.

Depending on what you point Lens at, it can often go far beyond simply returning search results and basic information. For instance, if you point it at a concert poster, Lens is able to quickly identify the band and then start playing a relevant music video.

How to Get Google Lens on Your Android Phone

google lens app
You may be able to run the Google Lens app on your phone if it isn't already integrated.

Lens was originally only available on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, but it has been integrated into a much wider range of devices. If you see the Google Lens icon in your Photos, Assistant, or built-in camera app, then you already have it on your phone.

If you don't see the icon in any of those apps, you may still be able to experience the fun of visual search by installing the Google Lens app on your Android device.

It won't be integrated into your Google Assistant or any other apps if your phone isn't compatible, but you will still be able to perform visual searches from within the Lens app itself.

The Lens app doesn't work on all Android phones, so you may not have the option to install it. If you have multiple devices, visit the Google Lens app page on the Google Play Store and log in to your Google account. If the message near the top of the page says "This app is compatible with your device," or "This app is compatible with some of your devices," then you can use Google Lens on one or more of your phones.

How to Get Google Lens on Your iPhone

There's no Google Lens app for iOS devices, but you can access Google Lens through the Google app:

  1. Download the Google app from the App Store.
  2. Open the Google app and select the Google Lens icon in the right portion of the Google Search bar.
  3. The first time you use Google Lens, you're must grant Google permission to access your iPhone's camera. Although you will grant permission to use your phone's camera, you'll snap the search photos within Google Lens.
  4. Aim Google Lens at the item to search and tap the Search icon to take a photo. Search results appear below the image.
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