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August 12, 2012 / carlispina

Translate the Printed Word With Word Lens

Word Lens LogoAugmented reality apps are trendy right now because they are so cutting edge, but many of the current apps seem like mere novelties or don’t have a sufficiently large user base to become a part of daily life. One major exception to this is Word Lens from Quest Visual, which is available for both iOS and Android devices. With Word Lens, users can view translated versions of signs directly on their device’s screen. This doesn’t just mean that Word Lens displays a printed translation of the text, but, using the device’s camera, it removes the original text and instead displays a version of the item with the translated text in its place. When I first read about Word Lens, I was skeptical of this claim, and I remained so even after viewing the video below, but after trying it for myself, I can honestly say that Word Lens does an excellent job of not only translating text, but also of displaying it fairly seamlessly where the original text appeared.

The underlying free Word Lens app allows users to try out the technology in two fun ways – either by reversing printed text or by removing it entirely from an image. But, the truly useful part of the app comes from the paid language packages that users can purchase to supplement the underlying app. Currently available for French, Spanish and Italian, each language package costs $4.99 and allows users to translate from English to the language and vice versa (a change from Word Lens’ previous pricing model which required users to separately purchase, for example, from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English). Once the package is installed, users simply need to select the language, point their camera toward the desired printed sign or other text and watch as the text is displayed on their screen in translation. The process is very quick, though occasionally the text does flicker slightly, particularly in low light or when the text is densely packed. Word Lens is primarily intended for translating signs and other similar printed materials; it won’t translate an entire printed page. But, it is nevertheless an incredibly impressive tool and it is easy to see how it will be useful to travelers and language students who want to translate signs on the go. For more involved translation projects, the app also includes a dictionary that allows users to type in words for individual translations as well. I think that Word Lens is an indication of the overall potential future of augmented reality apps and a sign of the way that finding the right use case for this technology can ultimately make the difference between a fun app and a truly useful tool. It is a great translation tool, but is also a sign of the potential future for augmented reality more generally.

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