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New apps help shoppers identify items using image recognition

Sami Pienimaki, one of the founders of Jolla company, presents the new Jolla smartphone in Helsinki, May 20, 2013 in this photo taken by Leh
Sami Pienimaki, one of the founders of Jolla company, presents the new Jolla smartphone in Helsinki, May 20, 2013 in this photo taken by Leh

By Natasha Baker

TORONTO (Reuters) - A new app lets shoppers flipping through retail flyers purchase items that catch their eye using image recognition technology.

The iOS app Pounce allows shoppers to scan images they spot in print media with their device's camera, then purchase the item online directly from the retailer running the advertisement.

"We are able to match an image with an actual product available online," said Avital Yachin, chief executive of BuyCode, Inc, the Tel Aviv, Israel-based company that developed the app, one of a growing number of apps using image recognition to bridge the physical and online worlds of e-commerce.

"Our vision is to allow purchasing of any product in any print ad," he said, adding that the company plans to expand to catalogs, magazines and billboards.

The Pounce app recognizes products that its retailing partners, which include Staples Inc, Target Corp, Toys "R" Us Inc and Ace Hardware Corp, sell online.

After scanning an image, the app displays the item's price and shipping cost, then allows shoppers to make the purchase directly from the retailer.

Other companies such as eBay and Amazon have apps that use image recognition to identify objects such as books, cars and even clothing to help shoppers find similar items in their online marketplaces.

"The potential of image recognition lies in its ability to determine the make and model of any item in the world, especially those that consumers are otherwise unable to identify," said Steve Yankovich, the VP of Innovation and New Ventures at eBay Inc.

EBay has experimented with adding image recognition to their eBay Fashion and eBay Motors iPhone apps. With eBay Fashion, for example, users can upload an image and the app will suggest items that have similar colors, styles, and fabric.

Its RedLaser app for iPhone and Android allows users to take photos of items and shows similar items available for sale at retailers online and locally, which eBay says fosters its main mission of partnering with retailers, not competing with them.

Yankovich predicts that image recognition technology will help make shopping more seamless as it evolves over the next 10 years.

Amazon's app Flow, for iPhone and Android, allows users to use the camera to identify a product sold on Amazon and get such details as its description, reviews and video or audio clips.

The company says the app can recognize packaged goods with distinguishable features such as books, DVDs or even items such as candy bars or a box of cereal. Users can then read reviews and purchase them from the online retailer.

But Yachin said it will be some time yet before consumers can identify everyday items such as clothing on another person.

"The broader vision of recognizing real-world objects will take a little longer," he said, adding that the technology relies on a large database of product images.

Pounce is free and available in the United States, with plans to expand to Canada and Europe. Amazon Flow is only available in the United States and is free and EBay Fashion is also free and available worldwide.

(Editing by Chris Michaud and Andre Grenon)

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