APP NAME: Leafsnap
DEVELOPER(S): Columbia University
RELEASE DATE(S): May 15th, 2011
Plants are all around us, but unless you’re a brilliant botanist you probably don’t know the names of most of them. Leafsnap is an app that lets you take pictures of leaves, flowers, and fruits and then the app tries to recognize which plant they belong to. The app sounds absolutely great in theory to let you identify all the unique and interesting plants around you. Once you start using the app though, the greatness in theory is thrown out the window.
First off, you can’t just snap a picture of a leaf, you need to make sure the leaf is on a white background. Not many people have a white background easily accessible on a walk or hike, so you’ll probably need to take leaves home with you. Once you take the picture, you need an internet connection to give you results. The process still takes awhile when on WiFi, and there is usually an error when on 3G. Overall Leafsnap isn’t an app to use in the field.
With that said, that doesn’t mean it still can’t be useful. Once you have a white background and good Internet connection you can start identifying your finds. At least, you think you could, but that’s until the app recognizes next to nothing. I tried ten different leaves, and the app couldn’t identify one of them. As soon as you see the identification process you understand why it fails. The app tries to recognize leaves, flowers, and fruit via black and white image recognition using the outline of the object.
Most differences in plants are the various colors, so the app is missing quite a bit. That’s only half the problem though, the other half is the minuscule database. There are hardly any plants included, and the ones that are, aren’t even that popular. I looked up leaves from an Avocado tree, Magnolia tree, Camellia bush, Azalea bush, and Pecan tree just to name a few. When you search for those items in the database, they’re not included so no wonder they’re not recognized. I tried a couple leaves that actually are in the database, but the app didn’t get those either.
To make matters worse, the interface just isn’t very responsive. You have to tap on sections and buttons a few times for the action to go through. Overall Leafsnap sounds great in principle, but doesn’t do anything in practice. The app is even more disappointing when you imagine the potential possible.