Shazam will recognize objects as well as music: the implications for retail and design


The music recognition service Shazam will branch out into new domains, said CEO Rich Riley at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today.
Reuters reports:

The next phase of development will be to enable phone users to Shazam actual objects, said Riley, such as a cereal packet in the grocery store to get more nutritional information or a DVD case at home to buy the movie soundtrack.

The capability is not new, with services such as Amazon Firefly allowing users to identify objects and buy them on Amazon, and Slyce identifying objects within a store for lookup and purchase. However Shazam’s excellent and long-standing service suggests they will execute well on object recognition and take the domain further.

There are massive implications for both retail and product design.

A couple of years ago, anticipating this development, I wrote about the idea of “Shoezam“, that could recognize and order shoes on the street. I wrote:

With 3D printing and other customized manufacturing techniques, apps that allow the essence of items to be captured through images will mean that anything can be duplicated virtually at will.

What will this mean for designers?

In a world of open information flows and inexpensive manufacturing all recognized designers are already getting copied wholesale. Yet this may be miniscule compared with what is coming.

Of course recognition technologies used in the app and the manufacturing processes will not be fabulous for some time to come. Customers will only be getting an approximation of the original.

Over time the quality will improve, gradually and surely.

Yet even at the apogee of replicating technologies, there will of course be a premium for buying original designer clothes and objects, for many reasons. It will give prestige and status to have originals, people will prefer to reward designers, and there will always be some quality difference. Quality will be truly to the fore.

In-store comparative pricing
The most obvious implication of Shazam’s object recognition capabilities is simply making it easier for customers in a store to identify an app for comparative pricing.

Shopping on the street
This only slightly streamlines the process of putting in the object’s name or scanning its tag when you’re in a store. However it does allow people to identify objects – such as clothes – on the street or in places other than stores in to purchase them.

Contextual information and reputation
One of the great possibilities is gathering deeper information about a product, not necessarily from just the manufacturer. A ‘Wikipedia’ of products could bring to bear both manufacturer information and others’ data or opinions. This would be an excellent route to access aggregated consumer opinions or manufacturer reputation scores.

Accurate, easy and widespread object recognition was only a matter of time. With Shazam’s reach that is likely to be very soon.

In this shift there are certainly opportunities as well as substantial challenges for retailers, designers, and manufacturers. The landscape of buying is rapidly changing.