Shazam Launches Visual Recognition Search That No One Will Use

May 28, 2015

3:05 pm

This morning, Shazam announced that it has added a new feature to its popular music discovery app: visual recognition. The added functionality gives users a new way to use their mobile devices to engage with the physical world through image recognition of certain goods, from books to toys. While that sounds neat, there's a very real probability that the feature will get little to no use from its current set of more than 100 million monthly users.

Shazam's New Image Recognition Tech

The new visual recognition technology on Shazam's app opens up a different kind of experience for users. Through the the new feature, users can now use their smartphone's camera to scan things in the physical world (such as Blu-ray boxes, magazine pages, and other pacakaged goods) to give them additional access to interactive content and special offers not available elsewhere. It will also give users an additional method through which to purchase certain goods – simply snap a picture of an item, and an option may be provided for you to purchase that item right from your phone. The one drawback: you can only scan items that either already have a QR code or have Shazam's camera logo.

“The introduction of visual recognition is another step on our journey to extend the ways people can use Shazam to engage with the world around them,” said Shazam CEO, Rich Riley, in a statement. “For brands, we’re providing a near-frictionless way to engage customers on their mobile devices, with a single tap of a button.”

Growing Trend in Visual Recognition

Visual recognition search has increasingly gained momentum in the past year – with companies like Canada's Slyce raising nearly $30 million for its image recognition technology and major retailers like Neiman Marcus offering their own set of visual search features. And such moves are certainly warranted: it's inevitable that we'll move towards a future in which all the technologies on our mobile devices will be utilized optimally…where image search functionality will help to solve certain pain points in our lives.

For example, there's a lot of utility to be gained when a clothing retailer implements image recognition search capability into its app – there's large market potential for consumers trying to pin down more information on that random skirt or dress shirt they found. By giving consumers the ability to simply take a picture of that clothing and helping them get one step closer to that item, a company can actually directly benefit from visual recognition tech.

A Weakness in Shazam's Attempt

Shazam's implementation of visual recognition tech seems more to be move benefiting brands than something adding any actual value to their user base. While the company purports to increase engagement with products in the physical world, the likelihood of anyone pulling out their phone to take a photo of an item featuring Shazam's unique logo or QR code is very minute, especially when the deliverables aren't anything of necessity (people don't need to watch an exclusive short from Disney's Tomorrowland – one of the company's current partners – but they may need to buy that dream wedding dress they found in a magazine ad). Consider: when was the last time you, someone you know, or even a random stranger pulled out their phone to take a pic of a QR code?

As Alex Konrad points out in Forbes:

“There’s plenty for the brands to like. Shazam offers more than 100 million monthly users globally, with broad demographics Riley says mirror iPhone ownership. Shazam can work closely with each partner to help them watermark an image to prime it for recognition. Many already do that with Shazam to tag television ads. And for Shazam, it’s another form of media to tap for potential partners, and ultimately, revenue.”

While the tactic seems viable and beneficial to the company at the moment, Shazam's visual recognition approach will likely only push them forward in the short-term. Over the coming months – as more data becomes available on actual usage of this feature – we should expect Shazam to roll out additional methods through which it can engage both brands and users (the assumption here being: it's visual search approach will ultimately fail).

But, I mean, who knows? Maybe Shazam will successfully evolve past its mere music discovery roots.


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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.