Google rolled out a few new products at its annual I/O conference this week, including Lens, which leverages a smartphone’s camera to provide users with all sorts of pertinent information about the world around them. Point that camera at a flower, and Lens will identify its species; point it at a restaurant, and Lens will surface lots of information about it (including reviews, listings, and more).
“With Google Lens, your smartphone camera won’t just see what you see, but will also understand what you see to help you take action,” Google wrote in a Tweet from its official corporate account.
Lens isn’t a groundbreaking innovation, as companies have attempted for years to meld camera and cloud—with mixed results. For example, Google’s Translate app will translate any text within the camera’s sightline. While not always accurate, that app was incredibly advanced compared to the clunky augmented-reality apps that first appeared six or seven years ago.
But Lens—and the apps from rival companies that will surely mimic its features—represents a clear and present danger to smaller tech firms of all types. That’s because the app merges several big technologies together, from artificial intelligence and machine learning to camera software. Tech giants such as Google not only have the billions of dollars (and thousands of very smart brains) to put such products together—they also have the enormous datasets that can seed and improve the underlying service over the long run.
For smaller companies that want to create the next great app, effectively merging multiple disciplines into a cohesive whole is a major challenge. If your next product needs to weave together A.I., mobile, visual, and data technologies, how do you even begin to hire enough specialized people—much less the right ones—to meet that need? Most firms can’t compete on a hire-by-hire basis with a Google or Apple.
That’s not to say that smaller firms can’t compete against the giants when it comes to this new, cross-disciplinary world. But the rise of these ultra-sophisticated apps will accordingly raise the pressure on companies to hire the right people—and plan the right strategy.