Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are also being used to make smartphone cameras smarter in a more literal sense, shifting their function from one about capturing images to one that’s just as much about comprehending them and then serving up relevant information to the user.
Although it still feels like early days for these kinds of applications, two major players in the smartphone market have already begun to roll out competing solutions to customers. Google have their Google Lens. Samsung have Bixby Vision.
Here’s a quick explanation of what each has to offer.
What is Google Lens?
Google Lens is a software feature that Google originally debuted with the Google Pixel smartphone and has recently incorporated into their Google Photos and Google Assistant apps.
What does it do?
Google Lens lets your smartphone camera “see” what you’re looking at through and then offer up contextual information and/or actions based on that. For example, if you point it as a business card, it’ll suggest adding that person to your contacts and automatically fill out the details based on what it sees on the business card.
Alternatively, you can point it at a restaurant or business and it’ll feed you relevant information like reviews or opening times and stuff like that. You can even automatically configure and connect to your Wi-Fi network by pointing it at the SSID sticker on the back of your home router.
Do I need a Google smartphone to use it?
Sort of. You do need a device running Android (KitKat or above) but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a Google Pixel one. Once you’ve downloaded and installed either the Google Assistant or Google Photos apps, you’re pretty much good to go.
To use the live-feed version of Google Lens on the Assistant, you simply need to tap on the Lens icon in the app.
Accessing the feature in the latest version of the Google Photos app is much the same. However, it can only be used on images that have already taken using your device's camera.
What is Bixby Vision?
Originally launched with the Samsung Galaxy S8, Bixby Vision is Samsung’s own vision of what a smarter smartphone camera should look like.
What does it do?
Bixby Vision can be used to easily translate foreign languages, scan QR codes, identify and inform you about landmarks or businesses and even identify specific wines. It can also convert text in an image into regular text. You can also use it to search for similar objects (using Pinterest) that the camera “sees” and, in markets outside of Australia, even order that product online.
Do I need a Samsung phone to use it?
Bixby Vision is only available on the Samsung Galaxy S8, S8+, Note 8, S9 and S9+ handsets.
It's also expected to be available on this year's mid-range Samsung Galaxy A8.
Which is better?
Though Bixby is by no means perfect and still has a lot of hurdles to clear before it’s widely seen or considered to be a legitimate competitor to Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, Bixby Lens as a feature currently feels like it offers just a little more utility than the competition - even if your mileage is almost-inevitably going to vary from situation to situation.