Pete, my buddy at Google, frantically emailed me this morning about this new iPhone app, Word Lens, and told me he thought it was going to be an instant game changer in the world of travel. He also insisted that I do a quickie review of it on my blog.
Given that I done have a cell phone of any kind and am distinctly not a techie, take this quick “one-off” with a entire salt shaker, instead of a just a grain, but here goes. (My previous ‘tech tips’ were more an attempt at humor – playing this one straight, so beware)
The description that the makers of Word Lens give themselves on the iTunes app store is: “Instantly translate printed words from one language to another with your built-in video camera, in real time! Use Word Lens on vacation, business travel, and just for fun.” The video that was just released on YouTube is pretty damn amazing:
As you can tell from the video, WordLens uses text recognition to determine what the word or phrase is, and then automatic translation software translates it into the new language. The translation is then pasted over the original location, basically in real time.
The apps ability to instantly replace the words with the desired language, exactly as they appear in reality on the screen of your iPhone, approaches the realms of magic to this non-techie. It at least deserves a solid, “WOW.”
The pros are pretty obvious, but a quick review of some of the various tech forums and other review sites brings up a few cons to consider, before you run to the iTunes store and download it. One bonus that needs to be mentioned first though — no need for an internet connection. It operates as a stand-alone app once downloaded.
- It isn’t free. Well, to be precise, the app is free, but worthless without the language additions. English to Spanish costs $4.99, as does Spanish to English, so you are looking at $10 for both functions. Spanish is the only language currently offered, but I assume others will be rolled out shortly.
- The biggest problem appears to be that it is a word-for word translation. On one of the forums, the programers noted. “yep, this is a word-for-word translation, because it’s fast and it gets the point across. we’re working to improve translation quality and finesse, but it’s a much harder problem to understand grammar. so, we hope it gives the general meaning, and you can learn to piece it apart.” So while this app is amazing, the translation you get for something like ‘dead end’ ends up as ‘Muerto Fin,’ which means nothing in Spanish, instead of the proper ‘callejón sin salida,’ which means ‘street without exit.’
- Currently it is only available for the iPhone – and apparently only the newest version of the iPhone, not the 3G version — or at least not well on that platform, there are conflicting reports.
- Related to that, if you are traveling, your iPhone is probably unlocked, which usually means you are running an older version of the OS software with local sim chips. It appears this app does not work with older versions of the OS software that you might be running in this situation.
- You are limited to the in-house translation program and can’t download any other translator to coordinate with the app, such as Google Translate.
In short, these folks are going to make lots and lots and lots of money.
As a side note, when I was doing some quick research, people on the forums were talking about how incredible this application would be in translating Chinese and Japanese characters. Turns out, there is something called Pleco that does that for Chinese, but not in real time. Here is their YouTube video.