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Google aims Goggles at Apple's iPhone

Can frenemies cooperate?

Hot Chips Google Lab's visual-search technology, Google Goggles, should be available for iPhone users later this year.

"We're working on an iPhone version, and hope to have it out by the end of the year," David Petrou, a Google staff engineer working on the Goggles project, told his keynote audience at Monday's Hot Chips conference at Stanford University in California.

Currently, Google's "Search by Sight" service is available only on Android clients, as it has been since it was introduced last December.

Petrou said that porting Goggles to clients other than Android is no mean feat. "It's actually a significant penalty [having] different code bases," he said.

But there is an alternative. "You write web apps," said the Googly dev, echoing his company's web-centric view of the world.

A web app for Goggles, Petrou said, isn't current;y an option, even with HTML5's enhanced media-capture abilities. "There is a new part of HTML5," he said, "that allows you to acquire an image from a camera. And that's really nice and really useful, but we don't think it's sufficient for something like Goggles that needs very fine control over the camera.

"The unfortunate reality is that we have to write client apps," he said. "If something were a web app, we could change and test on one per cent of our traffic, just like that."

And so Goggles will have to crawl out of its Android exclusivity by way of those pesky, time-consuming, hard-to-test client apps — and the iPhone will be the first to benefit.

And although Goggles is a technology worth using, Petrouy reminded his audience that it's still in the developmental phase. "When it works, it's very useful," he said, "but it doesn't always work."

That said, the technology — based on Google's CONGAS image-recognition engine — has acquired a database of approximately a billion images to work with, and can return a specific result on approximately 33 per cent of the queries it receives.

Considering the complexity of Google's goal of Goggles being able to identify everything, everytime, a one-third success rate — while not exactly chopped liver — leaves a lot of room for improvement.

"We still have a very, very long way to go before we meet our universal goal," said Petrou. And later this year they'll add a huge cohort of Jobsian test subjects to help them on their way.

That is, if the App Store police let Goggles into their sacred store. ®

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