Over the past couple of weeks Microsoft has provided us with more information and a demo of its new Skype Translator feature which translates speech in real-time and displays the translated sentences in the form of captions in the video call.
Today, as reported by the New York Times earlier this week, Google announced an update to their own automatic voice translation for its Android and iOS apps. The new version of the Google Translate mobile apps will now also give live translation from spoken word into written text for select languages and also include the Word Lens technology that Google acquired last year.
Word Lens enables users to translate text using the camera of their smartphone, making it possible to translate street signs or other text in foreign languages, like menus or maps. The nicest feature of Word Lens is that it uses augmented reality, meaning that the translation will be displayed directly on the sign or menu the user wants to translate.
This instant translation currently works for translation from English to and from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, and Google is working on the release of other languages.
The new Google Translate apps will also feature the latest version of the conversation mode. Rumored in 2010, demoed in 2011 and launched in 2013, the conversation mode lets users talk to others in their respective languages. The newest version streamlines the experience, aiming to make conversations more fluent as users only need to tap on the mic once and the app does the rest.
Google says its Translate apps have been installed 100 million times to date with 500 million active users a month, making 1 billion translations a day across all platforms. Currently, Google Translate features written translation for a total of 90 languages with 10 new languages announced in December 2014.
Although the technology cannot be expected to work seamlessly in the same way like having a call where both parties share the same language – yet, it will still have implications on how people communicate or even learn a foreign language in the years to come.
Maybe we shouldn’t expect all of it to come with the first update nor expect the technology to work perfectly just now, but it certainly gives us a good idea of how Google and Microsoft might imagine the future of translation and also communication assisted by technology.