We always wanted a Babel Fish, ever since reading about it in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The idea of sticking a yellow fish in your ear to instantly be able to translate speech in any language has enduring appeal. Even if we’re a bit squeamish about the ‘fish-in-ear’ part.
Word Lens isn’t quite a Babel Fish, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a new augmented reality app for iPhone that lets you translate printed text in real-time simply by pointing your camera at it.
It really does work, and it feels like magic. It’s designed to be used for a variety of things: public signs and menus for example. The translated text appears superimposed on the object you’re pointing at, with generally accurate results.
Word Lens is free, but you pay for ‘pairs’ of languages via in-app purchase: so Spanish to English cost £2.99 at launch (although the developers were planning to double the price at the end of 2010). More foreign languages will follow in 2011.
Another feature we like is the fact that all the vocabulary is built in: you don’t need to connect to the network. This app will, of course, be mainly used abroad, so the absence of expensive roaming data fees is a big plus.
Word Lens needs those additional language packs if it’s to become more than a niche novelty. But the technology is genuinely impressive, and more natural than laboriously looking up words or phrases in a dictionary (or, indeed a dictionary app – of which there are a fair few).
Augmented Reality can feel like more hype than usefulness, but Word Lens is one of the apps that proves AR has real potential to fit into our daily lives. Well, our daily lives when we’re on holiday, in this case.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Developer Quest Visual