If you can see it, you can search for it. Just go to bing.com in a browser on your phone, take a photo of something and use it to search the web for similar items. You can even OCR text too.
Bing is better than you might think and it has some great features that enable you to perform visual searches. Without installing any software, you can simply go to the Bing website, take a photo with your phone’s camera and use that image as the basis for a search.
It not only looks for similar photos, it can perform other tasks like finding related items by recognising the subject of the photo. It can also perform OCR (optical character recognition). In other words, it recognises text in photos and turns it into real, editable text that you can copy to the clipboard and paste in apps.
Let’s take a look at how Bing image search works. I am using Safari on an iPhone for this, but it will work on an Android phone as well.
1 Go to Bing
Open a web browser on your phone and go to bing.com. The home page always has a great photo and there is a search box in the middle. What we are interested in is an image search, so tap the camera button on the right side of the search box.
2 Browse or take a photo
At the bottom of the screen are Browse and Sample buttons. You may see some sample images, just ignore them. Press the Browse button to continue.
This displays a menu and you can either take a photo with the phone’s camera or you can browse your photo library for a photo you already took and saved. Press Take Photo.
3 Take a photo
The camera app on the phone opens and you can take a photo of whatever you want to search for. This could be anything you want information about, something unknown that you want to identify, alternative sources of things you want to buy and so on. I took a photo of my cat.
4 View the search results
The result of a an image search is images in this case, but it depends on the photo and the results are different for other objects. A photo of a cat shows similar cats.
A photo of a mini weather station gadget shows more weather station gadgets. This can be useful when you want to find similar products, such as when shopping or simply to identify what you are looking at.
4 OCR text and more
For this search I photographed a book with my phone. Notice that there is now a TEXT tab in the results and selecting it shows text extracted from the image. The quality of the OCR varies and sometimes it is good, but sometimes not. It depends on the photo.
This photo has some small black text to the right of FOR in the title which has messed up the flow slightly because Bing reads top to bottom and left to right. A person would read the title and the small text separately. The color scheme makes OCR harder too.
Anyway, the text is mostly there and mostly correct. If you swipe up to get to the bottom of the text, there is a button to copy it to the clipboard. This means that Bing image search can be used as a basic OCR service. Just go to bing.com, select image search, photo something with text, then copy the text to the clipboard. It can then be pasted elsewhere, such as in a notes or word pressor app.
It is not the best OCR I have seen, but it is quick and easy to do if you do not have a dedicated app on your phone.