Microsoft has updated its Bing Translator app for Windows Phone giving it a real edge in terms of translate-as-you go.
The novel feature of the update is augmented reality - point the phone's camera at a sign. poster, menu and so on and see an overlay of translated text superimposed over the original. As the Microsoft Translator blog post puts it:
Think automatic subtitles for everyday life
The languages supported are English, Spanish, German, French, Italian and Chinese Simplified - which is a wider sulection than Word Lens on iOS which currently supports English, Spanish and French.
More impressive is the fact that you don't even need a network connection. You can download the language pack for the language you need and use it in offline mode.
If what you want to do is hold a conversation in a language you don't speak, the translator app has a speak and translate mode with choices English (both US and UK) German, French, Italian, and Spanish. To use this you do need to be connected online. You tap the icon to speak into the phone then at the next tap you can either read out the translation or have the phone speak it for you.
Using the keyboard you can type in a word or sentence to be translated into over 30 languages, some of which are supported in speech-playback mode.
Finally, if you pin the app to your Windows Phone home screen as a new live tile, it will deliver a translation a day in the language of your choice, helping you to learn a new language one word at a time.
View this video to hear the developers discussing the features of this app:
Microsoft Research had a hand in creating the new app and it is interesting to note how important this sort of cutting edge AI application is becoming. The Microsoft Research team is particularly pleased with the achievement of cramming a standalone translation engine into the phone. Alex Acero, a research manager for Microsoft Research said:
“There’s also a compact machine-translation engine that runs in the phone. That is also cool, because it requires no data connection, important when you’re traveling if you don’t want to get hit with a huge bill when you come back home. The server engine is huge, so compressing it to fit in a phone was not an easy feat.”
Apple may have Siri, but Microsoft now has a translation application that might be difficult to reproduce on other platforms. Google could do it with its translation engine, but it is difficult to see why it would go to the trouble.
If you are looking for reasons why Windows Phone 7 deserves attention, add this app to the list.