How to Identify Plants, Dogs, Cats, Landmarks, and Art With Your iPhone Camera

updated by Chand Bellur
September 16, 2022 at 5:33 p.m.
  • iOS 15 introduces a new Visual Lookup feature, leveraging machine learning to identify everyday objects in the real world.
  • Users can take photos of a dog, cat, plant, landmark, or artwork, and the iPhone can identify the object.
  • This new feature only works with more recent iPhone and iPad models.
  • Visual Lookup is only available in select regions and languages.

iPhone Visual Lookup Explained

The iPhone’s Visual Lookup feature can interpret a photo, giving the user a deeper understanding of a particular object in the image. For example, if you take a picture at the beach and a dog photobombs your masterpiece, you can use Visual Lookup to learn more about the dog, such as its breed. This is no small task for a machine, which is why the feature is limited to newer iPhone models.

Visual Lookup works with more than dogs. The feature can also identify cat breeds, plants, trees, landmarks, and artwork.

Android devices have enjoyed this capability for years. Google Lens brought this technology to Android phones about five years before Apple copied it.

Visual Lookup Compatibility

Before we begin, let’s check if your device supports the Visual Lookup feature. If your iPhone is too old or you haven’t updated to iOS 15, you won’t be able to follow the steps in this tutorial.

First, let’s check that you’re running iOS 15 or later. Tap on Settings > General > About and view the field labeled “Software Version.” If this is 15 or above, then you may be able to use Visual Lookup.

Your iPhone’s model name and number appear below the “Software Version” field. If you have an iPhone with an A12 Bionic chip (or greater), you’ll be able to use these advanced machine learning features. For those with the SE version, only the 2020 model or later supports Visual Lookup. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t list the processor on the About screen. Don’t worry. There’s a list of compatible models below.

The Visual Lookup feature also works on the iPad. First, you’ll need to ensure you’re running iPadOS 15 or later. You can verify this by drilling down into Settings > General > About.

As with the iPhone, only specific iPad models feature the underlying hardware necessary to identify objects visually. You’ll need an iPad with at least an A12 Bionic chip.

Here are the following iPhone and iPad models that can run Visual Lookup, assuming that you’ve installed iOS 15 or iPadOS 15:

iPhone:

  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone SE (2nd gen)
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 13
  • iPhone 13 mini
  • iPhone 13 Pro
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • iPhone SE (3rd gen)

iPad:

  • iPad (8th gen)
  • iPad (9th gen)
  • iPad Mini (5th gen)
  • iPad Mini (6th gen)
  • iPad Air (3rd gen)
  • iPad Air (4th gen)
  • iPad Air (5th gen)
  • iPad Pro (3rd gen)
  • iPad Pro (4th gen)
  • iPad Pro (5th gen)

Right now, Visual Lookup only works in select regions with specific languages. The following languages support Visual Lookup for iOS and iPadOS:

  • English (Australia)
  • English (Canada)
  • English (Indonesia)
  • English (Singapore)
  • English (United Kingdom)
  • English (United States)
  • French (France)
  • German (Germany)
  • Italian (Italy)
  • Spanish (Mexico)
  • Spanish (Spain)
  • Spanish (United States)

Why Do I Need a New iPhone to Use Visual Lookup?

You may have an older iPhone capable of running iOS 15. There’s a good reason why you cannot take advantage of the Visual Lookup feature. Since the system relies on machine learning to identify objects, an A12 Bionic or newer processor is required.

The A12 Bionic chip features Apple’s advanced Neural Engine. With a focus on AI and machine learning, the Neural Engine can run five trillion operations per second. Without this additional processing power, iOS 15 cannot run the computations necessary to perform object recognition, which is an advanced computational task.

Newer iPhones boast far more processing power. For example, the A15 Bionic processor in the iPhone 13 lineup can perform 15.8 trillion operations per second. As processing power increases, the iPhone will become even more intelligent and able to detect virtually anything in a photo or through its sensors.

How to Identify Common Objects With Your iPhone

Identifying a plant, pet, landmark, or piece of art is easy to do with your iPhone. Don’t expect perfect results. The feature works; however, it’s more of a neat trick than a perfectly reliable tool. I wouldn’t use this to identify whether a plant is safe to eat, but it’s a great way to learn about the breed of dog you saw on a hike.

The first step is to photograph an object you wish to identify. You can also copy a photo off the web or use an existing image in the Photos app. For this tutorial, simply save the image below by holding your finger on it and then choosing “Add to Photos” from the pop-up menu. Apple’s AI will definitely recognize this cute dog, suggesting the correct breed.

Launch Photos after saving your image. Open the photo you saved in the previous section. You’ll see an “i” icon under the picture, indicating Visual Lookup is available. Tap on the icon. A screen with image metadata appears. Tap on the paw icon. Your iPhone now displays information about the breed. The artificial intelligence not only figured out that this is a dog but also determined the correct type, with a very close second possibility.

In addition to dog breeds, this system can identify cats, plant species, landmarks, and works of art. While this may not seem impressive, this is an astonishing feat for a machine that can fit in your pocket. Expect to see more practical applications of this technology in future releases.

Uses for Visual Lookup Tool

The Visual Lookup tool enables users to find unknown types of things. If one is walking about and sees a cat, one can take a photo of it, and, chances are, the iPhone can indicate the feline’s breed. This works with dogs, plants, landmarks, and works of art.

WWDC Visual Lookup
image credit: WWDC 2021

Hikers will find the Visual Lookup tool handy. After a long hike, one can look through photos, searching for any Visual Lookup icons. It’s a great way to know more about the spaces you inhabit.

The Visual Lookup tool is also handy for those adopting a pet. One can photograph a dog or cat to determine more about its breed.

If art museums are more your thing, taking photos with your iPhone can reveal more details about paintings, sculptures, and buildings.

However you decide to use Visual Lookup, keep in mind that it will improve over time. Most likely, the system will be able to identify a broader and deeper set of objects more accurately. It’s all the more reason to keep updating your iPhone!

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