Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Point your iPhone's cam at text and get an immediate in-image translation

If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, I've got some language-learning magic for you (via Master of 500 Hats). QuestVisual's Word Lens app for the iPhone allows you to point your iPhone's camera at text and it's automatically translated to another language - in your iPhone's screen right before your very eyes, as if what you're seeing through the camera were actually written in the translated language.

My words don't do it justice. Behold:

Clearly the translations they're using still have a way to go, but they still look generally useful as a quick-draw dictionary. And the implementation is just awesome; it looks like it's matching fonts, colors and even the perspective of the fonts. Wow.

The biggest limitation at this point is that it seems to be only available in Spanish to English and English to Spanish, which is a pity. As I'm currently in Japan, that won't be of much use to me, but I'll keep my eyes peeled for a Japanese-to-English version. (Actually, even an add-furigana-to-kanji version would be pretty darn useful for those odd kanji whose readings I can't remember on the sides of buildings and the like.)

If anyone's actually given this thing a go, please drop a note in the comments and let me know what you thought.


  1. If QuestVisual carefully selected text for the ad to show better Word Lens translations than are usual, that's more misleading than clever. It reminds me of certain video game ads from several years back that would show you only cut scenes from the game, which look awesome, but when you get your hands on the game itself it was all crappy, blocky graphics.

    I just downloaded Google Mobile App (of which Google Goggles appears to be a feature). I somehow missed out on this app's existence until now, but I'm definitely going to have to check it out.

  2. Perhaps you might find it useful, but I rely on direct translations as little as possible when learning a language. I didn't walk around with a dictionary when learning Hungarian or German this year; I just asked a native what that meant and they explained it to me in the language. Thinking via translations does nothing but slow you down, so I avoid it right from the start.

    If you look at the comments for this video on Youtube, the reaction from a lot of people is that apps like this are the first step to never needing to even learn a language. As well as being grossly untrue, it's encouraging laziness and monolingualism.

    As I said, I'm impressed by the OCR and text replacement of this app, nothing more. If I really needed a direct translation of a single word I'd just use a dictionary app from a reputable company like Collins etc., which would give context. It never takes long, I just type the first letters and the word will usually appear in the drop-down list.

  3. If they did that, I'd personally be way more likely to recommend it. Google Translate has many many problems, but it is among the best available for automatic translations at the moment.

  4. Worldictionary for iphone does just what you're looking for.

    (From another Irish living in Tokyo)