Blippar enters visual search market, extending perception of AR

by: Niall McKinney on 16 March 2015

Blippar launches visual search, introducing the 'light web', 12ahead talks to the founders

The aim is to unlock the 99% of the world that is not digital

Blippar, global augmented reality company, has introduced visual web search into its app, capitalising on the new searching behaviour that it is witnessing around the world.

Announced at SXSWi this weekend, the updated features allow people to take pictures of physical objects and interact with them, until now this interaction is only possible when something, like a poster or magazine page, carries the Blippar logo, (read about its partnership with magazine Drafted). Speaking to 12ahead, Blippar co-founder Jess Butcher explains the company’s new direction.

“The announcement represents a sea-change in our business model,” she says, “it’s a more reactive behaviour by turning all physical things into something interactive.”

The aim is to unlock the 99% of the world that is not digital and aggregate the “best of the web” by offering people utility-based contextual content responses. This can take the form of song downloads, ticket purchases or price comparisons, for example, all in all to introduce the ‘light web’, according to Butcher.

The service will go live next month, and the first verticals to launch will be film and music databases, so film posters, album and book covers will be searchable.

Blippar Founder and CEO Ambarish Mitra also comments that “the human imagination, curiosity and the quest for knowledge are all often limited by our capacity to define and assign language to describe and seek answers from the world around us.”

Although he does assure that “The visual search is not replacing text-based search, it’s an alternate behaviour which satisfies people’s spontaneous needs of instant object focused curiosity, therefore introducing the light web.” Text-input search relies on you already knowing what your intent is, and when interacting with the world through our smartphones, text is not the most natural way to discover things.

Butcher explains this turning point for the company also offers a way for them to build on how people perceive ‘augmented reality’. Numbers of AR executions have had poor user experience or have captialised on the novelty factor, which has kept the technology from gaining credibility, an association that can be limiting for Blippar. "We know AR is our technical heritage, but the perception of image recognition has extended beyond that.”

Other tech companies are pushing forward in visual and image search too, indicating the wider shift in our mobile behaviour. As with all things search, Google were in this space with its Goggles product. Google Translate also allows for language interpretation through image.  

In response to Blippar’s plans to take on Google, Butcher says “we’re not really looking sideways now. Image is the hottest way to search the web, but no one company is going to build this behaviour alone. Who will most succeed depends on the reliability of the technology and the surrounding business model.”

“We just hope that whoever enters the market doesn’t rush in and does it well, providing a satisfactory user experience."