SnapTell: Instant Product Lookup From The iPhone. You Want This.

If you have an iPhone, you’ll probably want to check out SnapTell Explorer, a free application now available on the App Store. The premise is simple: take a photo of the cover of any CD, DVD, book, or video game, and the application will automatically identify the product and find ratings and pricing information online.

I was skeptical when I first saw the app – the iPhone has had difficulty with image processing for barcodes, and most image recognitions systems I’ve tried on other platforms have been iffy at best. But SnapTell just works. Every time.

The app correctly identified just about everything I threw at it: Xbox games, Pocketbook O’Reilly manuals, The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom, Kurt Vonegut novels, and a number of more obscure books (yes, it worked on The Twinkies Cookbook). It even managed to ID a copy of Civilization 4, despite the fact that it was covered in obnoxious price tags and stickers. I actually tried to mess it up by taking photos in poor lighting and odd angles, but the app still stayed nearly flawless. No, it doesn’t have everything – I managed to stump it on a book about Danish Grammar – but it will do just fine for any trip to a retail store.

But while SnapTell seems to have the technology perfected, the app itself still needs a little work. Once you’ve located a product there is no rating or description offered – instead you’re directed to the appropriate links on stores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble (it would be nice if some basic rating information was pulled into the app). There’s also currently no way to quickly view a product’s price across multiple online stores, though this will be included in the next release which is expected in the next few weeks. The UI could also use some more polish – buttons are oddly placed, and the app doesn’t look nearly as slick as it should.

SnapTell works best on Wi-Fi and 3G, but also supports Edge (it takes around 10-15 seconds to upload the image on the slower network, versus a moment or two). The application will also be coming to the Android soon, and will feature both the image recognition seen on the iPhone version as well as barcode lookup (which is popular on Android but very difficult to pull off on the iPhone). The app was developed by SnapTell, a company that primarily focuses on image-recognition based marketing, and is making use of the company’s 5 million+ product database.