CueCat 9.0

After a decade of research, the scientists at’s A9 subsidiary may have finally solved the Cuecat conjecture, the e-shopping equivalent of math’s unsolvable Riemann hypothesis.

The Cuecat conjecture, named for the most spectacularly awful gadget to ever burn through $250 million*, is based on the hypothesis that human beings have a primeval desire to own a personal barcode scanner they can hold up to anything in order to buy it from

For several years on this blog (starting in 2003), I chronicled a steady stream of gadgets that tried to solve the Cuecat conjecture. From the Cuecat to QR codes, I’ve wondered why obviously high IQ’d people who could be finding a cure for cancer are, instead, developing new iterations of the Cuecat.

Today, the Amazon subsidiary A9 (wait, they’re still around?) launched an iPhone App that it claims, “uses both barcode and image recognition to continuously recognize tens of millions of products in a live camera view, with seamless transition between product packaging and barcodes. Users point to an item and Flow overlays pricing, availability, reviews, media content and other information directly over the item in view.”

That’s what Amazon says it does, but now that I have personally downloaded the app and put it through its paces, I can tell you what it really does: It turns your iPhone into a 2012-version of the Cuecat. See anything in the real-world you might want to buy? Hold up your iPhone and witin nano-seconds you can buy it from Amazon instead of, say, Target or your local bookstore.

The Cuecat never dies.

*”It fails to solve a problem which never existed,” the late Debbie Barham once described it.

  • So would you call it a “Flowcat” heh.

  • OK, but CueCat was a joke because it only allowed you to scan physical things or things out of a catalog and buy them online (still rare back then), all while tethered to your desk. Also, it was primarily pushed to buy things from one source, Radio Shack.

    Amazon (then  and now) allows you to find and buy almost anything without fiddling with a device. You just have to search by name which seems like an imperfect way to get to a product but actually allows discovery (and cross-selling) of all kinds of related products, too.

    So Flow might work as a mobile version of that, allowing you to find any product from anywhere (untethered) without scanning or typing. Obviously, going to Target to buy something from Amazon is stupid … unless you just happen to launch Flow for a review and/or price-comparing. Then, it is genius, a Trojan horse allowing Amazon to snatch sales from brick-and-mortar stores. It can also facilitate a one-click connection to products through billboards, print ads, etc. It might just work.

  • That’s why I say they may have solved the CueCat conjecture. All those things that were a joke about the CueCat, they may have solved.

    With the Amazon shopping app, you can already do the read a bar code at Target thing. I’ve used it when I was in Target and I couldn’t find anyone to tell me about a product. So, in that case, Amazon actually helped me buy something at Target.

  • Ah, I missed the positive spin on the irony of the last line. (I love your brilliant CueCat conjecture meme. It could apply equally well to so many other recurring, zombie ideas in tech that fail hard but keep coming back to life in a different form.)