Google has announced a visual search application for Android phones called Google Goggles, allowing users to point their phone at anything, from buildings and landmarks to business cards and papers and search for it.

It's an idea that's been brewing at Google for a while. As Marissa Mayer wrote in October 2008: "Why can't I enter my query as a picture of the birds overhead and have the search engine identify what kind of bird it is? Why can't I capture a snippet of audio and have the search engine identify and analyse it?"

Well, now you can. News of the service arrived this week, but the product will be available on Google Labs as of right now, and, as you might expect, is free of charge.

Google Goggles is described by the search giants as a 'new visual search application for Android devices which allows you to search with a picture instead of words'.

"When you take a picture of an object with the camera on your phone, we attempt to recognise the item, and return relevant search results," explains Google.

Goggles

Google Goggles was launched at an event in California, and works by attempting to match a portion of a picture against Google's database of pictures, or by recognising text and searching for that.

"Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words," said Shailesh Nalawadi, the product manager for Google Goggles.

"For many search queries, using an image to search is easier and more useful than text alone, especially on a mobile.

"Computer vision technology is still in its infancy, but Goggles demonstrates its potential.

"We are hard at work extending our recognition capabilities. You can imagine a future where visual searching is as natural as pointing your finger."

Google's explanatory video is below: