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Microsoft today updated its Bing app for iOS with some very useful functionality: image search using a new photo you take in the app or a photo you have hanging around on your device.

This feature is not yet available on Android or Windows Phone. It isn’t even available from the Google app for iOS or Android, or from Yahoo’s mobile apps, for that matter.

Once you’ve made a photo or selected a photo from your gallery in Bing on iOS, you can crop the image in order to only get search results that are similar to a specific part of the photo. From there, you can share the image through another app or give feedback. Or you can select any photo in the search results and crop it in order to receive new search results. (Hat tip to MSPoweruser for reporting on the app update.)

Initial tests suggest that the image recognition technology at the heart of the new feature doesn’t work perfectly — for example, I took a photo of a Mitsubishi logo on a nearby television and got other logos on devices in search results — but it does work well enough for many visual search queries, and more importantly, it’s forward-looking.

“In five years, we think 50 percent of queries will be on speech or images,” said Andrew Ng, the head of Baidu Research, in a talk he gave in 2014. (Baidu’s iOS app does offer visual search, but the app is not currently available in English.)

What Google has done in this area is the Google Goggles app, which is still available for Android but hasn’t been updated since May 2014. And it only took a quick guess at identifying an object or a place in an image, rather than offering up full-fledged image search.

Pinterest last year implemented visual search that allow users to crop specific parts of images and then find similar pins.

Bing revamped its iPhone app in November.


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