A new app just hit the iTunes App Store with the slightly unassuming name “Word Lens.” You may think it’s got something to do with typography or photography…but you’d only be partly right. It also instantly translates Spanish to English.
What the app does is take the image stream from the iPhone’s camera, apply real-time image processing and pattern recognition tricks to it, and it then “plays” with any text it finds in the scene before displaying it on the iPhone’s screen.
Not impressed by the description? Think again: Quest Visual, the company behind it, calls it a “real time translating app” and begs you to “turn your iPhone into the dictionary of the future–now!” The exclamation point may be warranted. Because what Word Lens does to text held before iPhone’s cam, conjures thoughts of the best sci-fi movies.
The app comes with a toy option that lets you reverse words it recognizes in the scene, or delete them altogether, but you can pay to download a Spanish-to-English translation package that instantly turns the words on, say, a menu, into text you can understand.
See what we mean? When Word Lens gets its act together, beefs up the pattern recognition so it can cope with odd fonts and adds in English-to-French, French-to-English, Portuguese, Russian, and so on… the app’s powers could be, quite literally, world-changing. Were he still with us, the creator of the famed fictional “babel fish” universal translator, Douglas Adams, would be having kittens right about now, and not only because he was an avowed Apple fan–this app is like the textual equivalent of that clever little fish.
We know smartphones are becoming ubiquitous, and that they’ve already changed the world in small ways (pub quizzes, for one, just aren’t the same any more), but Word Lens is one strong hint that the world as we know it is really, really changing. In the future, you may never again stare in confusion at a sign, menu or parking ticket in a foreign language. Our multi-lingual world just got the app it deserves.
To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.