Google Brings CTRL+F to Real Life With Phone Camera Search Feature

Announced at Google I/O, the new "scene explorer" feature helps your phone camera find what you're looking for.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Google Search Explorer

Google Search Explorer details products on a busy store shelf.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google on Wednesday debuted two new search features that tap into images online or photos you take in a store, part of the company's effort to expand far beyond text you type into a search box.

One feature announced at the Google I/O conference, scene explorer, lets you sweep your phone camera across a shelf of products at a supermarket or pharmacy to recognize the products in view. Google then overlays product information and ratings on the screen so you can find snacks with no nuts or scent-free lotion, search leader Prabhakar Raghavan said. It's an expansion of the Google Lens app.

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"Scene explorer is a powerful ability in our devices' ability to understand the world the way we do, to see relevant information overlaid in the context of the world all around us," Raghavan said. "This is like having a supercharged Control-F [find shortcut] for the world all around you."

Google said in a blog post it plans to add scene explorer to its search tools, but it didn't say when that would happen.

Another feature expands Google's multimodal search, which combines text and images into one search query. Now, by adding "near me" text, you can tailor searches to nearby results. For example, you can combine a photo of some unknown dish with the words "near me" to find a restaurant nearby that'll serve it, Raghavan said. That feature will arrive later this year for English speakers.

Search, the first service Google offered and the one that propelled it into today's multi-product juggernaut. It remains a core part of the company's mission to make information useful to the world's population, and search ads are still Google's single biggest source of revenue.

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At Google I/O, Google also said it's adopted a new 10-tone Monk Skin Tone Scale to better improve diversity in its AI training data, search results, and other operations.