World travelers and anyone struggling with a foreign language will soon have to worry a little less about getting lost in translation. Well, at least if they own an Android or an iOS device.
Google has updated its Translate application for the two operating systems with features that it said are capable of doing better live translation of spoken audio and written text.
The upgraded Translate app integrates Word Lens, a real-time text translation technology that Google acquired last May via its purchase of Quest Visual. The technology lets Android and iOS smartphone users get instant translations on their phones by simply pointing their camera at the relevant text, Barak Turovsky, product lead for Google Translate, said in a Jan. 14 blog post.
The translated text will be overlaid on their screens instantly, and users won’t even need a data connection or have to be online to get it either, Turovsky said. Instant translation is currently only available from English to and from Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, German and Portuguese. So Android users hoping to use their phones to translate spoken English to Swahili or Macedonian will have to wait to bit, but Google said it is working on expanding instant translation support to more languages.
The beefed-up Translate app also offers an improved audio translation experience. All that a user has to do to get live audio translation is to set up the application into conversation mode, select the two languages in which the conversation will be carried out and start speaking.
“Starting today, simply tap the mic to start speaking in a selected language, then tap the mic again, and the Google Translate app will recognize which of the two languages are being spoken, letting you have a more fluid conversation,” Turovsky said. “For the rest of the conversation, you won’t need to tap the mic again—it’ll be ready as you need it.”
Until now, users had to take turns speaking sequentially to the Translate app then wait for the spoken words to be translated into text and then wait again for the response. “Asking for directions to the Rive Gauche, ordering bacalhau in Lisbon or chatting with your grandmother in her native Spanish just got a lot faster,” Turovsky said. Google will roll out the updates over the next several days.
Google Translate, of course, is not new. Close to half a billion people already use Translate every month, accounting for some 1 billion translations every day, according to the company. Android has supported a real-time conversation mode for Translate since 2013 and a more basic conversation mode even before that. So what the updates do is really flesh out Google’s professed goal to turn smartphones into versatile universal translators.
Google’s Translate updates come about a month after Microsoft-owned Skype’s launch of a beta version of Skype Translator. The application for Windows 8.1 offers the same near-real-time translation of audio and written text that Google Translate now offers.
Over the past several weeks, the company has allowed users to take a crack at the software via a preview program, but the only languages currently supported are Spanish and English. Microsoft has said that more than 40 languages will eventually be supported for Skype instant messaging users on Windows 8.1 devices.