Several of my ZD Net colleagues noted the launch to Amazon's iPhone app this week. The feature that is most interesting, in my opinion, is the Amazon Remembers, which lets users snap a photo of a product with their iPhone and upload it refer to later, when shopping, and so that Amazon can attempt to match the image to products in its catalog. When it finds the product (and it does a great job, some results after the jump), Amazon offers the ability to add the result to your wish list.
Organizing all our stuff, let alone the stuff we want but don't have, is a chore to which computation is well suited, but we've always forced people into using the tools a retailer has at hand, such as bar codes and hand-scanners, to gather this kind of product information. I've had a CueCat, used half a dozen web cam-based barcode scanners, and many other approaches to gathering a digital catalog of the books, let alone all the detritus that adds significance to my life in different settings. So far, I only feel the absence of the connections I have tried to make with all these tools. Amazon Remembers is a promising step in a new direction.
After seeking a good book-sharing service for many years, I still haven't accomplished my goal, which would be to create a digital catalog of the thousands of books I own. The Amazon Remembers service made quick work of finding a book I photographed, Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson's The Superorganism, a book released this month, in a few minutes. In addition to remembering this as something I'd like to buy—since I already have a copy—I'd like the item added to my list of owned books.
Sure, I know Amazon built this to help me buy products instead of collect them, but Amazon also has a huge stake in being my online repository of stuff so that it can make recommendations. So, Amazonians, think about broadening the feature so customers can use Amazon before, during and after purchases. If you make adding a product to a personal inventory part of the act of purchasing or receiving it, Amazon will become the first point of referral for all purchases and when sharing something with a friend—users would have a page they could mail to a friend to share the product information.
Here are the results of a few attempts at remembering products that were unwrapped and, in a couple cases, hard to find today:
The Superorganism, a book, which I tossed onto a patterned bedspread. Amazon found the book and delivered an alert on minutes. Score: A hit.
A Mont Blanc Miesterstück Fountain Pen. It's a trick question, because Mont Blanc does not sell via the Web. Amazon returned a similar Cress Century II Black Fountain Pen, which is a pretty good match, since the color, gold highlights and the fact it is a fountain pen (despite the cap being on the pen). Score: A close miss.
An HP 12c Platinum Financial Calculator, which Amazon identified exactly, except that I have a "25th Anniversary Edition" that is no longer available. The question is, wouldn't I want an exact match, not the closest currently available? Score: A hit.
A Lenovo ThinkPad X60 Tablet. Amazon returned an X61 Tablet, the current version of the PC I have. Again, for cataloging purposes, not a match, but for replacement value it is useful. Score: A hit.
All in all, a very good performance for a first-release feature. I hope Amazon uses it for more than creating wish lists.