Google CEO Sundar Pichai discussing Lens and Google Assistant at a 2017 event.
Photo: AP

On Monday, Google’s Play Store released a standalone app version of Lens, its machine learning-powered tool for identifying objects captured by a device’s camera that comes integrated into the company’s search engine and virtual Assistant.

According to Droid Life and CNET, the Lens app amounts to a quick-launch icon for the service on Android devices where the functionality is not already built in or buried deep in menus. Upon booting the app, users are greeted with a viewfinder that can be used to target nearby objects for analysis with Lens, like so:

The standalone Lens app operating on a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
Screenshot: Gizmodo (Google Lens)

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Google recently added a number of features to Lens including real-time “smart text selection” that can be used to copy text from objects in the real world, shopping tools, and an improved UI, so releasing a standalone app is one way for Google to introduce new users and get them to act as de facto beta testers.

According to the Verge, Lens has previously only been integrated into native camera apps for Pixel devices and handful of smartphones manufactured by Sony and OnePlus, though at its recent I/O developer conference Google named 10 manufacturers in total initially selected to have the functionality inserted into one of their devices. The Verge wrote that the version released on Monday does not yet appear to be compatible with a wide range of phones:

Even though you can download it, the Lens app does not seem to be compatible with all Android devices. For example, it will work with Samsung Note 8, but not with the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. Other users have reported the app not working on Moto Z Play, Nokia 7 Plus, and the Xiaomi Mi A1. On Google Play, the app says it requires Android Marshmallow and above.

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Google has been hyping Lens for months, though as colleague Patrick Lucas Austin recently wrote, its object recognition skills are not quite ready for primetime and feel somewhat like a half-functional prototype. In the long run, Wired noted, letting Google peek through the eyes of your camera may come with a hefty price to your privacy. Paired with the troves of data the company already collects on its users, Lens could help Google maintain the massive competitive advantage it already has used to achieve a digital ad duopoly with Facebook.

[CNET]