Amazon iPhone App is Sweet

Last week, I told you about SnapTell Explorer and mentioned that it would be a great app for collecting and pricing your holiday gift and wish lists.

I also wondered why Amazon wasn’t doing this already.

Today, Amazon released an iPhone app that included Amazon Remembers, a feature close to what SnapTell Explorer does.

Use Amazon Remembers to create visual lists of things you want to remember while out and about. Photos you take from the app are stored on both the Amazon App and the site as reminders.

If the item you want to remembers (ed. their typo, not mine) is a product, Amazon will try to find an item for sale like the one in the photo. If we do, we’ll send you an e-mail alert and post the result along with the original photo.

According to the New York Times Bits blog, the images you snap and remember are sent to freelancers working in the Mechanical Turk program. These workers compare the item to Amazon’s product catalog and email you the price information if Amazon sells the item.

You’ll remember I also wondered if Amazon would acquire SnapTell Explorer, which works well, but only for CDs, DVDs, books and games. I guess this answers that question.

I tried Remembers with the same CD I used to test SnapTell, the De La Soul classic “3 Feet High and Rising”, and less than ten minutes later, I got an email from Amazon Remembers as well as an update in the Amazon app, identifying the product and pointing me to its product page on Amazon.

Sweet. I like this for a number of reasons:

  1. Although SnapTell is slick, it’s limited, and this app claims to be able to identify pretty much anything that’s a product for sale.
  2. Using Mechanical Turk isn’t instantaneous, like SnapTell, but it’s pretty fast. Bonus points to Amazon for employing real people and providing a use case for the cool and under-used Turk service.
  3. This app makes my iPhone ever more useful and even more a laptop replacement, as was my first reaction to the iPhone when it launched in Summer 2007.
  4. It pushes brick-and-mortar stores to compete, and competition is good for consumers. Think about it: you could head to the mall if you like that sort of thing, and browse like you’re registering for a wedding, picking out stuff you want to buy or get for the holidays. Then compare the prices in near-real-time and get the best deal.
  5. I look smart here, which is always a plus, and not that common.

I do wonder at the timing of the app’s launch though. I wonder how much coin Amazon lost because people weren’t out and about snapping images and comparing prices on Black Friday.

I guess I should disclose that I’m an Amazon apologist. I love Amazon, always have, ever since January 1997 when I first bought from them.

Their UI is great, they make useful changes that others copy (even Apple), they’ve expanded their business into web services, flying in the face of conventional wisdom about online retailing, they have great customer service. I could go on for a while.

Something about buying stuff online is fun for me. Maybe because I truly hate shopping IRL.

Anyway, your thoughts belong in the comments.

Update: I really wanted to test the limits of the Remembers feature, but I’m feeling guilty. Knowing there are real people wasting time scurring around and Amazon’s spending real money just to satisfy my urge to play with their app makes me feel bad.

Interestingly, since Amazon knows what you snap and what you buy, I wonder if their Turk response times will vary over time, i.e. if you buy a lot with Remembers, you get a quick reply. If you mess with them, you get the 24 hour maximum by default.

Very cool stuff.




  1. You feel guilty about costing them money for testing, but you tweak my interest with thoughts about differing service levels for different users and that makes me want to organize a bunch of users to test that theory out – luckily I am lazy so I won't ever get round to that.

    Got to try this App though, I've been an Amazon fan since the 90s too, when they would ship a CD from the US site to me in the UK that wasn't released there yet. I will probably get a lot of my gifts from there anyway.

  2. Be my guest and mess with it. Not everyone feels guilty about making the Turks scurry around to identify products.

    I'll probably use it eventually to keep track of stuff I see IRL, and there's a good chance I'll eventually buy too. So, maybe after a year or so, we'll have an answer.

    Amazon rules. Did you see AWS launched free public data sets? Sweet.

  3. if you snap a bunch of images do you get an email for each item or 1 email with all of the items.

  4. I have no idea. I only tried with a single picture to test. Anyone? That seems like a good question to ask Twitter. My guess is that each picture is an individual unit of work for Mechanical Turk, so probably one for each.

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  6. The most interesting feature of the app, however, is the new “Trade-in” option, which lets students easily check their items’ trade-in value and choose to sell those items they no longer need to other students, including textbooks, electronic etc.

    Amazon Mobile app for iPhone now includes barcode scanning too.

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