Word Lens: Suddenly, we can see the future (in English and Español)

January 13, 2011 | Robert Scoble

Word Lens is one of the hottest innovations I’ve seen this year for the iPhone. The app translates in real time, from English to Spanish or Spanish to English.

“I made the app because I was traveling in a foreign country and I was in a bookstore and I couldn’t read anything,” says Otavio Good, founder of Quest Visual, and developer of Word Lens. “I thought, maybe I can make my cell phone read this. So I decided to try making a translator.”

Two and a half years later, the video of Word Lens translating signs from Spanish to English went viral, and the app has often been described as “magical.” Why are we all so wowed? Because it translates on the iPhone’s video screen—no internet connection or photo snapping required. “We took that approach because it’s the most useful way to translate,” says Good. “Everything that we did was trying to better user experience, and that’s why we don’t use the network for this; we don’t have roaming fees. It still works in a subway…. Instead of just usable, it’s fun to use.”

Travelers are going to find Word Lens a very helpful reference tool in foreign lands. But that doesn’t mean that users haven’t aimed the app at the some of the least exotic text around.

“One of the reviews that I got on the internet, somebody pointed [Word Lens] at a one of these ‘lolcats’ images, and it was just never meant to read text with cats in the background with misspelled text,” laughs Good. “So yeah, it doesn’t work on everything, but once again, what’s the goal? The goal was to work for tourists, and that means a lot of signs and a lot of restaurant menus. These things generally don’t have cats in the background.”

More info:
Quest Visual web site: http://questvisual.com/
Quest Visual on Twitter: http://twitter.com/questvisual
Quest Visual profile on CrunchBase: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/quest-visual

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Zeke Weeks January 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm

The pace of work in rapid translation is pretty astounding. Yesterday Google released a voice translation alpha for Android, which isn’t quite instant. But last year Microsoft Research demonstrated an amazing realtime voice translation technology that seems years ahead of what we know now.

I wonder how this will impact global economies and decentralized collaboration for things like software projects… The sky’s the limit!

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