A German sports retailer has enabled image recognition in its printed catalogue so that readers can make a purchase by taking a photo of pages with a smartphone.

The SportScheck smartphone app has been upgraded using an API from startup kooaba, which recognises all 30,000 items contained in the catalogue’s 750 pages.

Customers can photograph the page featuring their chosen item, and are redirected to an m-commerce shop to select then buy the product.

The shopper can take various photos of different products to add to their basket before heading to the checkout.

Kooaba markets its technology as an improvement on QR codes, and aesthetically it is certainly better to have a catalogue simply filled with clickable glossy images rather than place black and white squares everywhere.

A blog post from kooaba said that QR codes “take up a lot of space and would ruin the design and the feel of the magazine, cheapening it.”

It’s hard to argue with that sentiment, though for the time being QR codes are at least a useful indicator that an image contains digital content. 

In an interview with us last week eBay’s European senior director of mobile commerce Olivier Ropars said that image recognition was the future, and apps like kooaba and Blippar prove that QR codes may have already had their day.

The main thing holding back image recognition is that every new trial seems to involve a different app, and until someone comes up with a universal image reader that links to a range of different m-commerce sites it is unlikely to catch on past its obvious novelty value.

Image recognition needs to be much simpler to interact with, and ironically, easier to recognise.