Amazon.com and subsidiary-of-search A9.com (remember them from your toolbar?) today announced Flow Powered by Amazon. Even their own marketing people don’t want to keep calling it that, so.. Flow is an augmented reality app that scans and recognizes everything from books and DVDs to packaged electronics and toys – and then digs up product information about the items from Amazon’s catalog. Thinly disguised marketing, yes, but also pretty nifty and useful in practice. And it’s free.
To use Flow, launch the app and point your camera at the cover of a book, video game, CD, DVD or any other product’s UPC barcode. Once the app recognizes of the product—which happens very quickly on an iPhone 4S—the app displays Amazon.com product information, including the option to play multimedia content and read customer reviews. A9.com’s only listed requirements are iOS 4.0 or later and an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Since UPC scanning requires a close-up shot, you’ll likely do a lot better if your iDevice has an auto-focus camera.
“This is our first step towards integrating product search technology with augmented reality,” said 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.”
While the camera is active, you can see tiny blue dots constantly “feeling” around the live image, eagerly reaching out to find things. A little creepy? Yep. A lot cool? Yep. The process is impressive to watch and again, surprisingly fast. According to A9.com, Flow uses their own custom continuous-scan technology to identify products and provide related information found on Amazon.
Whether you plan to buy the item on Amazon or not, this can be very useful to view retail prices, used prices, reviews, details and availability. It’s also a neat-o advance in augmented reality and real-time scanning. If you don’t want to buy the item on Amazon, don’t. As long as there’s a chance of that happening, and Amazon wants to fund cool projects like this, we all benefit.
Flow Powered by Amazon is available now as a free download via iTunes.