Amazon quietly released a new iPhone app last week that aims to give other bar code scanning apps a run for their money. The free app, called Flow, isn't revolutionary in its bar code scanning capabilities. Oh, it scans bar codes just fine, but the beauty of Flow is that it does more than just bar code scanning. Flow allows the user to point their iPhone's camera at an object, like a book, DVD, Blur-ray disc, or video game (and Nutella, apparently) and get an instantaneous augmented reality overlay of the product information right on the iPhone's screen.
The overlay is more than just a Buy It Now link to Amazon.com. The app utilizes Amazon's large digital media collection and allows users to instantly get audio previews of CDs they've scanned or video previews of DVDs, video games, and more. I used the app to successfully scan The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, the Captain America DVD, and the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine with Steve Jobs on the cover. All were found in Amazon's huge virtual catalog instantly.
It's no wonder Amazon released Flow now. They want to get it in the hands of as many iPhone users as possible prior to this holiday shopping season. The app works exceedingly well both in bar code scanning and photo recognition. It's also really nice to be able to get audio and video previews of products and be able to instantly buy them on your phone. However, Flow isn't a huge threat to other bar code scanning apps, like RedLaser, just yet. Flow obviously only shows you products on Amazon's site, where RedLaser gives you the prices of products across multiple sites.
Brick and mortar stores like Best Buy and Target should be extremely worried about Flow and its future iterations. When Flow gets to the point that you can scan larger items like TVs or laptops (items that typically don't have the bar code showing on the store's display) those big box retailers could then become largely nothing more than a glorified showroom to which people go to see products, quickly scan them, and then order them at a significant discount from Amazon.
Flow is a free download.