Judging by the reaction on the Web, the makers of a new app that turns an Apple iPhone into a real-time language translator have a hit.
Quest Visual's Word Lens application is generating quite a buzz on Facebook and Twitter and has become the second most popular free app on the App Store, where Word Lens made its debut Thursday. The application on Friday was one of the top trending topics on Twitter and had received more than 750 likes on Facebook.
Language translation on a computer is not new. What is new is the way Word Lens does it. When the iPhone video camera is pointed at a sign written in Spanish, the app immediately replaces the Spanish with its English translation. The augmented reality works in reverse and well enough to get lots of people talking about it.
"It can only do word-by-word translations, but I understood a sign in a language that I don't speak at all. This is the future," Norman Danner says on Facebook.
While Word Lens can only do bidirectional translation in Spanish and English today, the application has been designed to handle more languages in the future. Downloading World Lens is free, but the language dictionaries needed to perform the translations cost $4.99 each. This in-app purchase model sets up Word Lens to handle more languages in the future.
The application does not require an Internet connection, so a person can use it anytime. The app works best on clearly printed text, such as on signs and menus. It can't recognize handwriting or stylized fonts. The creators acknowledge the app isn't perfect, but claim users can get the general meaning of the text, which needs to be at least a hand-length away.
Word Lens requires an iPhone 4 or iPhone 3Gs or iPod Touch with video camera and iOS 4.0 or later. Quest Visual charges $4.99 for a Spanish to English dictionary and another $4.99 for translating in the other direction.
Quest Visual is not the first to release an augmented reality app for the iPhone. Yelp released last year an iPhone app called Monocle that takes information from the review site and overlays it on restaurants, bars and other places in view of the iPhone's video camera.