Skype Translator impresses with its ability to deliver speech translation in real-time during a video or voice call. The downside, of course, is that both sides of the conversation must use Skype.
That changes this week with the latest version of the Skype Preview app for Windows Insiders. Now, users can call landline or mobile phone numbers and trigger the service.
"Select the dial pad, enter a phone number to see a Skype Translator option next to the call button. Tap it to bring up settings for Skype Translator. From here set the languages and place the call," instructed the Microsoft Skype team in a Dec. 8 blog post.
Skype Translator supports a total of nine spoken languages so far, namely English, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Italian, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian and Spanish. "Once the person on the other side picks up they will hear a short message stating that the call is being recorded and translated through Skype Translator and then you can start talking," according to the teams blog post.
Microsoft expects the new capability to boost Skype Translator usage, which in turn will help improve the quality of translations delivered by the service's underlying artificial-intelligence and machine-learning technologies. Using a headset provides an optimal Translator experience, reminded the company.
Other new features in the Skype Preview app for Windows 10 include the ability to create and share video messages with other Skype users even if they're offline at the time. The updated app also supports call forwarding on paid subscriptions and allows users to label conversations as read or unread.
For in-person meetings and gatherings, the company unveiled new capabilities for the Microsoft Translator app that enable groups to communicate with one another in multiple languages. Announced during the company's AI event this week, the updated app (mobile and on the web) uses language and speech recognition to turn smartphones into a "personal universal translator," of sorts.
After users log in, select a language and start a conversation, Translator generates a text or QR code that other participants can use on their devices to join the conversation.
"The speaker presses the keyboard space bar or an on-screen button in walkie-talkie-like fashion when talking," explained Microsoft research and innovation writer, John Roach, in a separate post about the new live translation feature. "Seconds later, translated text of their spoken words appears on the screen of the other participants' devices—in their native languages. For some languages, audible translation is also available."
Roach acknowledges that the technology is very much a work in progress at the moment. Nonetheless, it has already proven useful in a pilot project in New York City that helped non-English speakers through the application process for state-issued IDs. The technology is also helping The Children's Society communicate directly with migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking, easing apprehensions about otherwise sharing sensitive details with interpreters.