Google has been steadily improving its Google Translate machine translation tools for years, but today it announced two updates to Google’s Translate app for iOS and Android that bring us significantly closer to the dream of Star Trek’s universal translator.
The first update incorporates technology from Google’s acquisition of the startup behind automated translation app Word Lens last spring. Now you can point your phone camera at any piece of text–such as a sign in a foreign country—and instantly see an overlaid real-time translation on screen.
Initially this feature will only translate between English and French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, although Google is reportedly working to expand it into more languages.
The app’s second significant update supports real-time conversation by streamlining the process by which voice-to-text translation is carried out. Before today, users had to select the languages they wanted to translate between, and then tap a button in the app whenever they wanted to begin speaking. That has now been simplified, since after the two languages have been entered, Translate will automatically pick up on which of the languages is being spoken—and automatically translate accordingly.
The update will roll out on both platforms over the next several days.