Amazon expands ‘Flow’ app to Android — still needs work

Amazon’s Flow augmented-reality product identification app, developed by the  company’s A9 subsidiary and released last year for iPhone, is available for Android devices as of this morning.

If you’ve never heard of it before, the concept behind this app is really interesting. Flow aims to go beyond barcode scanning, using the phone’s camera and object recognition technology to identify items such as books, video games, toys and other products based simply on their appearance.

Once the product is identified, the app overlays product, review and pricing information from Amazon over the scene (which is where the augmented reality comes in).

The app then lets you tap to quickly buy the product from Amazon.com — a traditional retailer’s nightmare come true.

Or at least it would be if it worked as promised. I downloaded the Amazon Flow ap for Android this morning and for the life of me I can’t get it to recognize a single product using the object-recognition technology — book, video game, cereal box, etc.

I’ve tried different settings, lighting, and products, and nothing works. (I’m using the app on a new Samsung Galaxy S III.) This wasn’t a huge surprise because I’ve actually had the same problem when trying out the iPhone app in the past.

Flow does work great when you scan the UPC barcode on the back, but as noted by one user review in the App Store, that makes the app more of a glorified barcode scanner. (They’ve also added QR code support with the Android release.)

The object recognition technology is supposed to be the killer app of this app. I’ve asked an Amazon representative if this is something they plan to address.

  • Guest

    Congratulations to Amazon on this expanded release!

  • MiguelS1

    This is a problem that must be addressed by computer science. Machine vision is one of the hardest problems to solve, so it might be a few more years before we see really good object recognition accuracy.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Well, in the meantime Amazon has put out an app that purports to do object recognition but actually doesn’t, at least not as promised, in my experience.

    • MiguelS1

      I have no idea how they are going about implementing the actual recognition software, but it’s often times the case that an app such as this will be released in the hope that as people take photos of objects, that data can be used to better train their machine learning algorithms.

      Google’s Goggles performs reasonably well, but it’s far from perfect. I doubt that massive data is going to solve this problem, though, so all the OR apps are going to be severely lacking in capability.