Amazon's New Flow App Scans Objects in Real-Time

By Wesley Fenlon

Amazon's Flow app hides a brilliant sales tool under a layer of augmented reality.

Google Goggles does its best to accomplish a longstanding technology goal: translate real world objects into data. Google sees the potential for product search, but there's a company that stands to benefit even more from the physical-to-digital recognition software. Who would absolutely love to see you go to a store, check out a product, and then buy it online for less money? Amazon, of course.

Enter Amazon's augmented reality app Flow. The iOS app recognizes books, games, DVDs and CDs, and UPCs of all kinds. Instead of taking a picture, analyzing it, and searching for results like Google Goggles, Flow uses continuous scanning to identify objects and then pops up an augmented reality overlay with details about the product. And, naturally, Amazon's pricing (cheap!), shipping costs (free with Prime!) and a direct link to the store page.

The free app uses augmented reality as a fun gimmick to provide more information about the media you encounter in the real world. That's pretty cool, especially when it ties into stuff like music--you can preview tracks from an album, for example, or read user reviews on a product. But that's really just window dressing for Amazon's goal: getting you to buy stuff from them instead of Target or Wal-Mart or Barnes & Noble.

If you're a Prime subscriber and own an iPhone, Amazon may have just turned you into a window shopper. As the app moves 1.0, it will hopefully gain the ability to take items from your scan history (which it does keep a list of) and automatically add them to a wish list for later perusal on the web.