It’s not often you download an app onto your phone and — without understatement — it just blows you away.
But Google Translate is the most astonishing piece of mobile software I’ve seen in months.
It’s one step away from Douglas Adams’ “Babel Fish,” the little creature from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy that you stick into your ear in order to understand what aliens from other planets are saying.
Google Translate lets you read anything in a foreign language, translate any text, even handwriting, and carry on a live conversation with another person as the app auto-translates what you’re saying. The software translates instantly, whether via text, photo or voice.
It’s completely amazing.
- Stop what you are doing right now to try this out: Download it from the Google Play store in Android here or, if you’re on an Apple device, use the App Store here.
The quickest way to understand how good this thing is, is to use the camera option. Imagine you are stuck in Spain. You don’t speak Spanish. But there’s a sign at the airport you need to read. Just open the app, take a picture of the sign, select the text and — boom! — Google reads it back to you in English.
Here is an example, using a newspaper article from El Mundo:
It looks interesting, but what is it about?
I select Spanish >> English in the app and take a photo of the page:
Next, follow the instructions — swipe your finger on the areas of the photo that you want the app to translate:
As soon as I’ve selected the text, Google Translate begins translating:
Tap on the text and it’s delivered in a more readable format:
Not perfect, but good enough! I now know about the Madrid connection to the Charlie Hebdo killings!
The voice section of the app is equally thrilling.
Just select the translation you want (English to Spanish in this case), and tap the mic symbol (bottom centre):
Then, just speak, and the app replicates your words as text:
IT’S MAGIC! I’M SPEAKING PERFECT SPANISH!
The amount of computing power that must have gone into this app — text translation, optical text recognition, and audio language recognition, all seamlessly knitted together — is mind-boggling.
The team behind the app came from Google’s acquisition of Quest Visual and its Word Lens product last year.
They ought to be carried shoulder-high around the corridors of the United Nations for this achievement.