February 2012 Trend Briefing: POINT—KNOW—BUY

Smartphone-toting consumers are embracing a world in which they can find out about (if not buy) almost anything they encounter out in the real world, anytime. Learn from the brands already capitalizing on this trend, then get going!

We flagged POINT & KNOW as one of our 12 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2012, but now here’s a full Trend Briefing showing how POINT-KNOW-BUY will reshape consumers’ info-expectations, search behavior and purchasing patterns.

Now, that consumers crave information is nothing new. Information and knowledge give consumers power, control and certainty (or at least the illusion thereof). Therefore they will forever be in demand by consumers searching for the best of the best. Equally important, the discovery aspect of information adds a fun factor too.

“Discovery will no longer be limited to text search”

After a decade of near-obsessive Googling, instant access to information with the right (textual) input is now expected, a way of life. The next frontier is visual info-gratification: consumers accessing information about objects encountered in the real world, in more natural ways and while on-the-go, simply by pointing their smartphones* at anything interesting.

And just as ‘going online’ is no longer limited to sitting in front of a computer (at a desk!), discovery will no longer be tied to text search. People will be able to immediately find out about (and potentially buy) anything they see or hear, even if they don’t know what it is or can’t describe it in words.

*As with so many digital consumer trends, the (always-in-your-pocket-if-not-in-your-hand) smartphone is a big driver, and so is the coming together of a ‘visual’ tech ecosystem (everything from QR codes to better visual search) that will fuel full-blown POINT-KNOW-BUY.

So, a definition:

POINT-KNOW-BUY definition:

With textual search and information now abundantly available to most people most of the time, the race is on to make instant visual search and information ubiquitous too. Any real world object (if not person) will soon be able to be ‘known’ by on-the-go consumers equipped with smart phones, which can be pointed at anything to retrieve/find related information on a whim. And yes, some commerce may follow from that as well ;-)


POINT-KNOW-BUY is still an emerging consumer trend. The desire for ever-present, easy-to-access information is there, but it’s important to remember that many of the technologies listed opposite are still developing, and there is still some way to go before the process becomes ubiquitous, seamless and (most importantly) reliable.

Indeed consumers’ INFOLUST will only be truly satisfied when:

  • It becomes possible to POINT-KNOW-BUY almost any visual object – not just designated ones, or those with codes.
  • The software is seamlessly integrated into devices, and doesn’t require dedicated apps.
  • Image / audio recognition is able to cope out and about in the real world of poor lighting, background noise and awkward angles.

We’re getting there though, as shown by the examples below. But first the tech platforms of the now and the future that will enable full POINT-KNOW-BUY:


Let’s start with the ‘knowing’ part of POINT-KNOW-BUY:


WordLens is an app that enables users to translate printed text (such as menus or signs) from French or Spanish to English (and vice versa) via the iPhone’s camera.

Schiphol & Charles De Gaulle Airports

Recognizing that many Chinese passengers are not proficient in English, and wanting to roll out the RED CARPET, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and Paris' Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport launched a a mobile app in January 2012 specifically designed to help Chinese navigate around the airports. Users can point their phones at 750 signs in Paris' CDG Airport and 250 signs in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to obtain a Chinese translation. The app also offers airport information in Chinese and a translation of maps to the departure lounges.


leafsnap is a free app that utilizes visual recognition technology to enable users to identify species of tree by taking photographs of leaves.


Google’s Skymap continues to be a great POINT & KNOW showcase, by enabling users to point their phones at the sky to discover details about the objects or constellations they look at. Star Chart and Star Walk are similar apps for the iPhone.

GPS Rangefinder

Keen golfers can take advantage of Golfscape's GPS Rangefinder. The app uses a combination of GPS and augmented reality so that when a golfer holds their iPhone or iPad up with a view of a course, markers display the distance they are from hazards and the green. The software costs USD 19.99 and works on over 37,000 courses worldwide.

Find My Face

Indeed everything is becoming KNOWN, even people: Created by Carnegie Mellon University, PittPatt is a facial recognition tool. PittPatt was acquired by Google, and is behind Google+ Find My Face. Launched in December 2011, the feature automatically suggests who people are in users’ photos. Scary? Perhaps. Interesting? Definitely.

And of course there’s an audio aspect to POINT & KNOW as well:


The pioneering Shazam, which enables users to identify any track they hear wherever they are, announced in September 2011 its users were tagging over one billion songs a year, and the service would offer unlimited free tagging.


WeBIRD allows anyone with a smartphone to record a bird’s call, submit it wirelessly to a server, and (after a few seconds) receive a positive ID on the species of bird. WeBIRD hopes to be available to the public in time for spring migration in 2012.

POINT & KNOW technologies can also easily be applied to become POINT & KNOW-HOW TO:


Aurasma, an app developed by Autonomy (recently bought by HP for over USD 7 billion), delivers object-driven augmented reality. The company recently released a video showing how users could view real-time instructions of how to wall-mount a TV, on the wall itself.


Metaio showcased an augmented reality guide to changing printer cartridges (perfect for consumers staring blankly at the inside of a printer wondering where ‘Door B’ could be ;-).


POINT & KNOW also helps facilitate DIY HEALTH, one of our 12 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2012: Skin Scan is an app which allows users to scan and monitor moles over time, with the aim of preventing malignant skin cancers. The app tells users if a visit to their doctor or dermatologist is advisable.

Where early augmented reality apps relied on GPS to 'guess' what users were looking at, newer visual search technologies promise to actually 'see' objects.


And here’s an innovative twist to POINT & KNOW for the visually impaired: VizWiz is an app that allows people to help blind users ‘see’, by telling them what objects are that they've taken a picture of.


Heinz launched an ‘augmented reality recipe book’ using Blippar’s technology. Users of the app can point their camera at a bottle of the brand’s eponymous Tomato Ketchup to see recipes pop-out of the bottle.

And for when technology fails, there’s always CROWDSOURCED POINT & KNOW:


French site WhereToGet.It allows users to post photos from the street, magazines, blogs or films, and ask the community where featured items can be purchased.


Belgian magazine Flair launched their fashiontag Facebook app in March 2011. The app enables users to tag photos of friends’ clothing, and ask where they bought it.

But for a real glimpse of where POINT-KNOW-BUY is heading, it’s worth looking at how the big tech players are rolling out even ‘smarter’ image recognition and visual search:

Google Goggles

Google Goggles allows users to search the web by taking photos of objects. In fact, in the latest update, continuous shooting mode users no longer even have to take a photo of an object. Instead the app continuously scans everything in the viewfinder, and automatically shows relevant results as it recognizes objects.

Layar & Telefonica

In September 2011 Layar announced they were partnering with Telefonica, to bring together the visual search capabilities of the start-up with those being developed by the telecommunications giant's I+D research lab. The technologies are similar to Google Goggles, and allow users to access digital information attached to objects without the need for special tags or packaging. The companies have not yet announced how they will roll out the technologies to consumers.

Not surprisingly, adding the ‘BUY’ element directly to visual searches will become a common feature for big retailers in the next 12 months:

Amazon Flow

Amazon’s Flow app released in November 2011, also features continuous scanning technology. As soon as users point their phone at books, games, DVDs or CDs, information appears instantly; including media clips, reviews and purchase information.


In November 2011, eBay’s CEO John Donahoe announced that image recognition would be a key feature of eBay’s future mobile applications. Users would be able to take photos of real world objects and find similar items for sale on eBay.

Snooth Wine Pro

Wine lovers can use the Snooth Wine Pro app to snap pictures of wine labels which are matched against the site’s database. Users can view reviews, find local stockists, check prices and purchase online.

Adidas Originals

Users of Adidas’ Originals iPhone app launched in August 2011, can take a photo of any Adidas sneaker and have it scanned against the brand’s range to find the closest match, product information and local stockists.

IQ Engines

IQ Engines is a spin off from UC Berkeley and UC Davis which provides an image recognition platform. Alongside their own oMoby visual search engine (similar to Google Goggles), the software also powers the image search functionality of Best Buy’s and NextTag’s mobile shopping and price comparison apps.



“POINT-KNOW-BUY unlocks huge opportunities for true instant info-gratification”

We don’t need to point out (pardon the pun) that POINT-KNOW-BUY is of course just one part of the much bigger trend of mobile commerce (‘m-commerce’).

Smart business and marketing professionals will immediately recognize that POINT-KNOW-BUY unlocks huge opportunities for true instant info-gratification, where consumers are able to learn and buy at the moment of discovery. POINT-KNOW-BUY can also make the purchase process more convenient and/or transparent; from reviews and price comparison to smoother check-outs (QR-shopping windows anyone?). But that’s for another Trend Briefing ;-)



While perhaps only the biggest brands or platforms (e.g. Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay) will have the range of content or products to be able to satisfy any snap or scan, there will be endless opportunities for any brand to cater to consumers' endless lust for information, for discovery, for NOWISM, for instant gratification.

Think practically: how can you add depth of knowledge and communicate stories, origins, price comparisons, reviews, e-commerce and so on? Anything that helps POINT-KNOW-BUY consumers to be better informed, able to discover and act on the things they encounter in the real world.

Good luck! trendwatching.com logo