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The latest update to Google Translate for Android and iPhone adds some powerful new features to greatly streamline the translation process. Google Translate already has the capability to translate words, such as those on signs, that appear in pictures taken by the phone’s camera. However this new update has the ability to translate words captured by the camera in real-time, and make the translated words appear on the screen as if they were apart of the sign, as demonstrated in the gif below.

While Impressive, the underlying technology is not new. In fact the app Word Lens offered this functionality as far back as 2010. In spring 2014, Google acquired Quest Visual, the company that developed Word Lens. It was a logical step for Google to incorporate this real-time translation capability of Word Lens into their own translation service. However the number of languages supported is still quite low. It can translate English to and from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish languages, which is far lower than 90 languages offered by the traditional Google Translate features. Google is working on supporting more languages with this feature in the future.

Google also announced other improvements in their translation service. Previously, when you had long conversations that required translation, you needed to tap the screen for each message you wanted translated. Now you can simply set it up to translate between two languages and it will translate automatically for the whole conversation. You can just keep speaking and the translated text will be generated in real-time.

While none of this is really a breakthrough in technology, but more of a gradual improvement. Incorporating existing technology into their larger service could still provide benefits to users, particularly those traveling in other countries who want to read the local signs. However some are looking forward to the future, and where developments in this technology might lead. The thoughts of a Star Trek style universal translator within our lifetimes is very tantalizing. However the number of languages supported by this shows there is still a long way to go before an truly universal translator can be created.

What benefits do you think these new features will have for Google Translate users? Where do you think translation technology will be in ten or twenty years from now? Leave your comments below.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.