Update: It appears that shortly after the publication of this article, someone at Google flipped a server-side switch to make Google Lens no longer work. It was fun while it lasted! The original article can be read below.
Last night, Google began rolling out version 184.108.40.206271220 of the Google Photos app. As with any point upgrade to a Google application, we like to perform what’s been called an ” APK Teardown” of the app. By decompiling the app, we can view hidden strings and assets that are not yet public. These bits of information help us determine what features we might expect in upcoming updates for the app. But yesterday’s APK Teardown of the Google Photos app was a bit unusual. We not only found more evidence of the announced Google Lens integration, but we discovered that the feature is actually fully functioning, provided you’re a bit comfortable with Android’s intent system.
However, many of our readers are not developers, so we decided to make it a bit easier to access the hidden Google Lens feature in Google Photos. That’s why our very own Jeff Corcoran, lead developer of XDA Labs and XDA Feed, cooked up an application we’re called Google Lens Launcher. It’s an incredibly simple application built for entirely one purpose: so you can try out Google Lens right now on your Android device.
What is Google Lens?
Google Lens Integration with Google Photos Announced at Google I/O 2017
Google Lens, for those who are unfamiliar, is a feature that utilizes Google’s machine learning technology in order to bring up relevant, contextual information based on what it sees in the image. For instance, when Google showed off the product at this year’s Google I/O, the company demonstrated Lens analyzing a flower to determine what kind of flower it is. They also showed off a few more useful examples such as pointing your camera at a restaurant and receiving relevant information such as reviews, and automatically connecting to a WiFi network by pointing your camera at the router’s sticker.
Think of it as the spiritual successor to Google Goggles, though understandably the delineation between Google Lens and Google Goggles is a bit unclear at the moment, especially since we’ve only had a few early hands-on experiences with incomplete versions of the feature thus far. But thanks to the latest Google Photos update, we can now try out what appears to be a functional version of Google Lens.
What can Google Lens do?
Although Google has not officially released Google Lens, we have a good understanding of what it is currently capable of, thanks to our APK Teardown last night. To spare you the trouble of looking over that again, here’s a basic rundown of Lens’ feature set:
- Add contacts from a business card
- Language translation
- Look up product information
- Open web addresses in your browser
- Plant and animal identification
- Save dates to your calendar from a poster
If the Lens service fails to identify an image, it falls back on the power of Google’s search engine to let you look it up yourself.
Try Google Lens out with Google Lens Launcher for Google Photos
The way Google Lens Launcher works is quite simple. The app registers itself in your Android phone’s share menu by using an implicit intent filter, and it accepts intents that are sent with image files. When the user shares an image to Google Lens Launcher, the app will then itself send an intent to Google Photos using the intent filter we found in the earlier article. Specifically, it sends an intent in the following format:
Action: com.android.camera.LENSrCategory: DefaultrMime Type: image/*rData: file:///path/to/image/filerPackage: com.google.android.apps.photosrClass: com.google.android.apps.photos.lens.oem.LensActivity
When Google Photos receives an intent in this format, it parses it and reads the image file that was sent with it. It then automatically starts analyzing the photo you sent using Google’s machine learning algorithms. Basically, our app is just a middle man to handle sending image files to Google Lens until Google officially rolls out the integration with Google Photos. Until then, this app will provide you a way to play around with the new feature before it is official available!
In order to make it work, you will first need to download the latest version of the Google Photos app, which as version 220.127.116.11271220 as mentioned in the beginning. You can grab this application from XDA Labs or on the Google Play Store. Next, you’ll need to download and install the Google Lens Launcher application, available on XDA Labs at the link here.
Once installed, you can immediately start using it by sharing any image file stored on your device to it using the built-in share menu.
Keep in mind that we whipped up this application in a matter of a few hours. It’s very much unpolished at this state, and isn’t intended to be an app that you keep around for a long awhile. We’ll try to update it on occasion, but don’t expect too much from it as Google can easily pull the plug on this with another Google Photos update.