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In the immediate wake of its arrival on the iOS Google app, and its one year birthday, Google Lens can now recognize a billion products. This is four times the number it recognized at launch, and a key milestone and proof point for visual search’s growing capability.

As we wrote in our recent Google Lens test drive, Google is specializing in a few palatable types of visual searches in early days in order to hold users’ hands. That includes fun subjects like dogs & flowers, as well as truly useful subjects like ingesting text (think: menu items and road signs).

But the longer term play is monetizable product searches (it is Google after all). This will tie in Google Shopping and entice advertisers by aggregating usage around high-intent visual product searches. Proximity to items being searched also means solid analytics for those advertisers.

In fact, Aparna Chennapragada writes in Google’s blog post that 10 to 15 percent of the pictures we take are of practical things like receipts and shopping lists. And of course, there are lots of style-based photos being taken — the clearest monetization opportunity that Lens will start with.

“With the style search feature in Lens you can point your camera at outfits and home decor to get suggestions of items that are stylistically similar,” she writes “If you see a lamp you like at a friend’s place, Lens can show you similar designs, along with information like product reviews.”

For users, we believe visual search will be one of AR’s true killer apps. It has the magic combo of broad applicability, “all day” frequency and utility. It isn’t as sexy as other flavors of AR, but that could be a good thing: its value lies in mundane utility rather than novelty, giving it staying power.

And Google is the right company to build it. Drawing from its vast knowledge graph, search index and image database, it’s better positioned than anyone out there to do visual search right. And the company is highly motivated to make it happen, given alignment with its core search business.

Others will succeed in specific areas. Pinterest has strong visual search foundations, and Amazon is a sleeping giant with product-based visual search, where it’s already experimenting through a Snapchat partnership. But Google is best-equipped for general-interest visual searches.

And following its online/mobile search playbook, that broad utility engenders massive query volume…from which it monetizes a subset. That subset will be commercially oriented searches — as opposed to dogs and flowers — which is where the billion products milestone comes in.

We mentioned in our recent Tech Giants report that Google will continue to throw lots of money and resources at Lens. And we’ll hear lots of upcoming feature enhancements and milestones. That’s already panning out and we’ll keep our radar up for more visual search evolution in 2019.

“Looking ahead, I believe that we are entering a new phase of computing: an era of the camera, if you will,” wrote Chennapragada in her blog post. “We’ll be able to pay our bills, feed our parking meters, and learn more about virtually anything around us, simply by pointing the camera.”

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Disclosure: AR Insider has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.

Header image credit: Google