Google Search adds AR and big Lens upgrades

Your smartphone's camera is about to get even more useful.

Google is going to start displaying search results in augmented reality, the company announced today at its I/O 2019 developers conference. "Sometimes what's most helpful in understanding the world," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said on stage, "is being able to see it visually." The idea, he added, is to bring visual information directly into search by letting users take advantage of their smartphone's camera. Google said it will use a combination of computer vision and augmented reality to turn your phone into a powerful search tool, whether you're looking to shop or wanting to learn more about the Solar System.

For instance, if you search for something like "muscle flexion," you can now view a 3D model right in your Google Search results. That means you can swipe your screen to move the model around and, since the feature supports AR, you can bring it into your physical environment -- such as your studying desk. Another example Google showed off on stage has to do with shopping. With New Balance, if you're searching for a pair of shoes from the brand, you can look at different angles of it and even place it next to your clothes if you want to see if it'll match.


Meanwhile Google Lens, which uses machine learning and AI to search for things your camera sees, is getting even smarter. Now if you point your camera at a restaurant menu, it'll highlight the most popular dishes there. Or if you point it at sign like the one pictured above, one that may be from a language you don't understand, Lens will offer to give you a text or audio translation in real time. This is an extension of what the company is already doing with Google Translate, and it'll come in handy for travelers.

In addition to these AR and Lens upgrades, Google also revealed that it will be adding more context to searches related to news and podcasts. Pichai showed off an example of "Black hole" results, a topic that was popular recently, which pointed users to a new "Full coverage" tab that offers "the complete picture of how a story is being reported" from a number of different sources. The search giant is going to start indexing podcasts, as well, which will make it easier for users to find relevant episodes of a title they're looking for -- and you guessed it, you can listen without having to leave Search.