Work Smart: 3 Useful Things You Didn't Know Your Cameraphone Could Do

Having a camera built into your phone isn't a big deal anymore. But when you combine that camera with the rich software applications that run on devices like the iPhone and Android, you get lots of cool new ways to put your cameraphone to good use.

Cameraphones are becoming a form of digital photographic memory, helping you remember what level you parked on or the label on that fantastic bottle of wine. Now, with the right apps, you can also use your phone to scan barcodes and store them, and even translate and recognize text.

Google Goggles is a brand new application for Android phones that lets you search the web with an image. You just point your phone at an artwork, a book, DVD, or CD cover, a landmark, or a logo, and Goggles will return search results for that item. You can even point your phone at someone's business card, and Goggles can automatically add that person's name, address, phone number, email address and web site to your address book. Eventually, Goggles will be able to translate written text as well. So you could point your phone at a sign or menu in another language and get back Google Translate's translation.

Newer smartphones have such good cameras they can double as barcode scanners. ShopSavvy is an app available for both the iPhone and Android that can scan a barcode on any product and give you prices from all over the web as well as retail outlets near you. Google Shopper is a similar application on Android: point your cameraphone at either a barcode or a book, CD, or DVD cover, and Shopper will show you prices and review of that product from around the web instantly.

A special kind of square bar code called QR Codes, are becoming a popular way to transmit information like web links and phone numbers directly to a phone without any typing. If your local coffee shop has a barcode in the window, for example, you could scan it on your phone and can instantly find reviews and more information without tapping a key.

Speaking of barcodes, one of the most clever uses of a camerphone I've ever seen is to take and store images of membership cards or big box store club cards that you use over and over again. Instead of crowding your keyring with your grocery, pharmacy, and movie rental place club card, take pictures of each one and store them in an image file on your phone. Then when you're checking into the gym or checking out at the cashier, you can simply scan your screen. There are also dedicated apps for organizing your cards into different categories, and even setting alerts to remind you if, say, there is a special sale on a certain day every month.

Gina Trapani is the author of Upgrade Your Life and founding editor of Lifehacker.com. Work Smart appears every week on FastCompany.com.

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7 Comments

  • kyle travis

    Linking offline content with online content via the mobile phone is a great idea.

    You guys might also want to check out www.lookthatup.com -an iphone app powered by image recognition technology from LTU Technologies. LTU recently opened up their API to developers so they can develop their own google goggles-like application.

    I just got an account with them and it seems really easy to integrate.

  • Shane Moylan

    Point taken with the article. But it seems like the second half of the article is more 'what an iphone or android can do' than what an average camera phone can do. When I can use google goggles etc on my other branded smart phone, let me know :)

  • Pike Barkerding

    Great piece, the omnipresence of the camera phone is undoubtedly having an extraordinarily historical impact on all of our everyday lives. One unmentioned example, which would likely warrant its own article, is the camera phones' affect in breaking news video and photos.

    In news, nothing is more valuable than being in the right place at the right time. And if you have a camera phone, you're a potential journalist whether you like it or not. The purists will deny it, but I think this is the next big thing in news media. A few up and coming models out there already focus on helping the average Joe leverage his scoop snapping power. Bideo is an interesting one that let's users auction newsworthy footage to competing news outlets, which in turn bid on the exclusive. Obviously though the shot needs to be really good..

    Gonna be amazing to watch the camera phone phenomenon blossom as the hardware/software get exponentially better! So many value points...

  • Jose Buenaposada

    Hi Gina,
    Interesting that you mention 'QR codes and dedicated apps for organizing cards'. I recall introducing my app to investors three years now and they all said QR codes would never be used in US. I actually halted programming my app but it is up and operative. Now I never type any phone number or address on my smartphone, I simply type on my laptop and then scan generated QR code into my phone's address book. Should you like to have a look, it's nuebbo dot com. -Jose