App of the Week – Google Shopper

Google's trying to make shopping easier with crazy-clever voice and audio searching

Price: free

Platform: iOS

Shopping used to be so easy. You went to your local High Street, squeezed a few tomatoes and then bought everything else at Woolies. Not so in the digital age. Now the world’s retailers can be found in the palm of your hand and a billion more sellers crowd online auction sites. Google Shopper aims to make things just a little easier, with voice or audio searches and instant price comparisons.

Like the Amazon Mobile UK and RedLaser apps, Google Shopper has a barcode scanner that makes short work of most packaged products, from books and Blu-rays to gadgets and even household items. Search results are sorted into online and local. Online retailers are the usual mixed bunch, with a few big names but mostly smaller retailers and even eBay vendors. The local shops are a handy although, like RedLaser, the choices seem fairly random.

Unlike rival apps, though, you can also use Google Shopper to scan cover art. This is less convincing: after repeatedly scanning the cover of the fantastic new Tropical Discotheque compilation from Sofrito, the app eventually spat back a paperback called Help Me I’m Discouraged. Precisely.

If it’s hard to see the value of cover scanning when barcode scanning works so well, voice searching is even more gimmicky. Google Shopper grabs at the first word you say and the recognition algorithm is poor: saying Inception brought up products for, er, intimate infections, while trying find an iPad brought up Ike and Tina Turner CDs.

Post search, a Details icon leads to a brief product description and Google and Wikipedia search links. Like RedLaser, choosing Buy opens the retailer’s website – some can be tricky to navigate on a small screen and others just look dodgy. Compare that to Amazon Mobile UK, with user reviews of products and the ability to buy anything with just a couple of clicks.

However, shopping comes often comes down to price and here’s where Google Shopper works well. With prices from auctions and specialist retailers as well as the Amazons of the world, you’ve got a good chance of getting a sweet deal. But it’s not guaranteed: in Stuff tests, Amazon Mobile and RedLaser sometimes found the lowest price on different products. Let’s just hope someone is busy working on price comparison engine comparison app…