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Snapchat Hopes ‘Scan’ Can Transform it into a Visual Search Engine

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Snapchat has historically been a messaging and fun communications app, but the company appears interested in shifting that narrative through Scan, a feature that lets the app identify a host of objects in the real world, from clothes to dog breeds.

Scan isn’t new and has been a part of the app since 2019. But as reported by The Verge, Snapchat Scan started appearing more prominently in the app this week. That placement means the company wants its users to gravitate towards it and use Snapchat as a visual search engine and not just as a way to send silly messages to friends.

Additionally, The Verge notes that the app can also use Scan to suggest different augmented reality (AR) effects, called Lenses, based on what the camera is looking at, which is a way to address what is seen as a growing problem for the app: how to find the right Lens in the giant pile of the millions that are made by the Snap community.

Snapchat is fighting an uphill battle with this feature. Google launched its Lens visual scanning feature in 2017 and is integrated by default into Google Pixel phones and some other Android devices. Pinterest also has a visual search feature.

Apple will roll out its version of visual search with iOS 15 in the fall. Called Visual Lookup, the Photos app will be able to identify objects, landmarks, books, plants, works of art, and more and link those findings with more information that is pulled from the internet. This feature will come in addition to the iPhone’s ability to recognize text in photos as well.

That’s a lot of competition, and that does not count the several other apps that are highly specialized, for example, Picture This and its plant recognition system that gardeners and botany hobbyists use to identify plants in a matter of seconds with startling accuracy.

Thanks to its nearly 300 million daily active users, Snap believes that it is well-positioned to fight that battle, however. The company told The Verge that more than 170 million people already use Scan at least once a month, and that was prior to changing its location to prime placement.

The real test for Scan will be how good it is at identifying objects compared to the existing and forthcoming competition. The Verge reports that right now, the feature is “hit or miss,” but Snap promises that its ability to recognize objects will get better over time. Since Scan doesn’t seem to offer more than competitors and may not be better, it’s hard to say if this pivot from messaging to visual search is a winning strategy quite yet.


Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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