Monday, December 27, 2010

Google Goggles: Take a pic of words, convert to text and then translate using Google translate

After Benny mentioned Google Goggles in the comments of my post on QuestVisual's Word Lens app, I decided that I was going to have to check the app out.

The basic idea behind Google Goggles—at least as far as language learning goes (it does a bunch of other stuff too)—is that you use your smartphone's camera to get a picture of something written, which the app then converts to text and lets you translate via Google Translate. Due to its apparent limitations on the use of Japanese, I unfortunately didn't find it to be very useful.

The first thing that's kind of confusing about Google Goggles is that it's actually not a stand-alone app; it's a feature of the Google Mobile App, so that's what you actually have to download. Once I did that, I still had to go into Google Mobile App's settings in order to enable Google Goggles, which was off by default. That might have just been because my iPhone's language is set to Japanese and Google Goggles does not yet have a Japanese translation (I got a warning message to that effect when I enabled it).

Once enabled, I set about trying it out on things within arm's reach. Since most of the things within arm's reach are in Japanese, that's what I tried, and it seems that Japanese optical character recognition is either not enabled or not very useful. Given that I'm in Japan, that makes Google Goggles pretty useless for me right now.

I tried to take pics of text in books, but it didn't seem to be able to convert or recognize that amount of text (I wonder if my results would be better if I had a better camera; I'm still using the iPhone 3GS). It also had trouble with on-screen text, so grabbing things from around the net on my computer seemed like it would be a futile effort.

So I'm not impressed. It seems like it could be really useful, but when I can't even get it to recognize the text of the language I'm studying, that pretty much leaves me where I am: typing the words I don't know into online dictionaries.

So has anyone used this in a language using the Latin alphabet (or any other script that's better supported)? If so, I'd love to hear how it worked for you.


  1. yeah I have the same problem, it translates dutch fine tho...for some reason my dad changed his phone language settings to dutch...and luckily goggle was able to help me read the settings menu, however it had trouble with detecting japanese characters for me too...thats a real shame. hope google can do something about this soon.

  2. Certainly not a shocker that Google Goggles would work better with Western languages than with Japanese. I'll have to give it a go with one of them when I get a chance.