updated 06:10 pm EDT, Wed November 2, 2011
Amazon Flow searches with augmented reality
Amazon's A9 search team tapped into one of the most common tactics of modern retail shoppers on Wednesday by launching Flow for iPhones (free, App Store). The app uses augmented reality through the phone's cameras to ID products based on their UPC codes. If a match exists on Amazon, users can both get more information, including videos, as well as buy it on the spot.
Similar to Google Shopper, most of its focus is on books, games, movies, and music, although it can recognize "millions" of products down to things as simple as packaged food. Users can share the product listings out over Facebook or Twitter, and content Amazon hosts digitally, such as music, has sampling built directly into the app.
The app is only available in the US so far. It needs at least iOS 4 and will work with iPads and iPod touch players, although the need for an active Internet connection makes the iPhone the primary choice. No Amazon-made equivalent exists for Android.
Although left unsaid by Amazon, Flow is effectively an attempt to harness the tendency of some shoppers to use retail as a tryout area for products they then buy online. Retailers have occasionally tried to curb this, but seldom to much effect.