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May 9th, 2013

In our recent review of technology foreseen by Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, we discussed the real-time, spoken translation offered by Jibbigo and other apps that run on computers, iPads, Android tablets, and smartphones. Yet there are two other final frontiers in translation: (1) real-time translation of text input for messaging, chat, and phone texting; and (2) real-time translation of written material captured by camera (signs, menus). It all started with optical character recognition (OCR) software, which is now so ubiquitous that it’s typically a freebie on both computer rentals and new retail units. Talking translators are fun, but their improvement typically hinges on increasing numbers of users adding pronunciation nuances to the “sonic database,” which takes a little time. Translation apps for texting and deciphering text in images will mature first, but the Universal Translator is not far away.

The iPhone leads the way

Sendboo_app_iconWell, the iPhone and Sendboo lead the way, to be precise. Sendboo, an IM (instant messaging) app for iOS, translates between a chosen language pair. With over 30 languages already supported—from Arabic, Chinese, Czech, and English to Dutch, French, Italian, Polish, and dozens more—Sendboo is making itself useful to much of the world, but cramps its own style by being an iPhone exclusive. There is no Android version, despite the huge market for that OS, and neither is there a browser version to use on your MacBook Pro rental or home PC.

None of that would be a concern if the app was lousy. It’s not. In fact, Dave Johnson, a reporter for CBS News Moneywatch, discussed his own experiences with Sendboo in a February article. He tested it with his wife, who speaks French and Russian fluently, and judged the translations to be “both adequate and essentially instantaneous.” Johnson concluded that “the conversation [was] as fast and fluid as any IM client” and had “no lag.” However, there is that small matter of iPhone exclusivity—of course, that should be “iOS exclusivity” since the app will run on our iPad rental, too. That it won’t run on any kind of computer or Android device is strange since the Android market dwarfs iOS, so we’ll keep an eye out for new Android versions to join the two iOS versions: a free one with ads, and a $4 one without.

Point, click, translate

Quest Visual, the developers behind WordLens, call their app “a Babel Fish in your pocket,” claiming it will “translate text by pointing your phone at it.” WordLens-iconResults are not guaranteed, and complaints led to some quick ameliorative bug fixes, but the basic process is dead simple: You simply point your phone or tablet’s camera at the words on a menu, poster, or road sign, and WordLens will translate them, in real time, into your chosen language. Translated text is overlaid on the live camera view, which one reviewer called “kind of a wow moment (when it works).” This one has only recently branched out from its iOS-only roots, so it may be subject to additional bugs when running on a tablet PC rental or any other Android-based mobile device with a good camera.

Further confusing things is the iOS pricing, which got enough complaints to spur a recent bug-fix-and-new-feature upgrade. The free demo app (not available on Android) includes no language packs, but does have “text reversal” and “text white-out” test modes. With the $4.99 paid version you get one free “language pack”—the current roster is English paired with Spanish, French, Italian, or German—and can make in-app purchases of additional packs for another $4.99 each. With no interoperability with your iMac or even your laptop, you will have to keep all language packs installed at all times, which can gobble storage space if you travel a lot and start adding more languages. Clearly, though, Quest Visual is a responsive developer, so complain and they’ll fix that, too.

At CRE, we are responsive, too—to your every need, every question, every challenge. Whether you need render farms to push projects out the door, or great trade show convention rentals to pull people to your booth, we are ready to help. Call us at (877) 266-7725, send a message, or fill out the Quick Rental Quote form and let us know what you need. We are here, and we’re always ready! Call now!

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