I’m more than a little preoccupied with fonts and typefaces, and am constantly vexed by unidentifiable ones on signs, etc. that I can’t place or recall. A while back Lia sent me a link to an iPhone application that actually works pretty well in this situation – WhatTheFont. It uses the same image recognition technology behind new approaches to search and marketing: take a picture of a font using the app interface, which then queries MyFonts, a huge online collection of typefaces, to identify its name. For non-iPhone users, WhatTheFont is also available as a web app and a forum – you can upload images and/or specify pages to scan for font recognition, or submit a hard-to-recognize font to the forum for input.
I’ve had decent accuracy with the iPhone WhatTheFont app, although this depends largely on the quality of the images I submit. Within a given typeface, individual fonts are distinguished by minute differences in slope, serif, and weight, which makes me wonder how this thing is able to produce results as consistently as it does. That said, the 3G iPhone’s relative inability to capture clear close-up photos and lack of built-in zoom both pose obvious problems for visual searching in general. (There are other photo applications available that attempt to address these limitations). Despite these caveats, on the whole the ability to look up fonts out in the world is an excellent curiosity assuager.
While I’m not planning to shell out for the iPhone 3Gs model anytime soon (I’d rather buy three and a half round-trip tickets to Austin, thank you very much), perhaps the free OS 3.0 upgrade will provide some functionality improvements for image recognition searching.