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Google Word Lens to translate street signs

Google lets you point smartphone at signage for instant translation

Google has added a surprise new feature to its Translate app which allows users to translate foreign language text by pointing their smartphone’s camera at it. Earlier this week, it was leaked that the new version of Translate would automatically detect the language people were speaking in and provide real-time translation. Now, the company has gone one better by throwing in text translation. 

Dubbed Word Lens, the feature lets users point their smartphones at text such as street signage or restaurant menus and receive an instant translation. The translation is overlaid on the orginal object, as if the street sign has been magically converted into English, for example.

Crucially, the new feature works without an active data connection, meaning you won’t run up hideous data bills when using the service on foreign holidays or business trips. Word Lens is currently restricted to just a few languages: English to and from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, although Google says more languages will be added in due course. 

“Today’s updates take us one step closer to turning your phone into a universal translator and to a world where language is no longer a barrier to discovering information or connecting with each other,” says Google Translate product lead, Barak Turovsky, in a Google blog post announcing the new features.

The real-time text translation isn’t a new concept. Word Lens started out as an iPhone app way back in 2010, and the company behind it – Quest Visual – was acquired by Google in May of last year.

Google says the new features will be rolled out to both the Android and iOS versions of the Google Translate app in the coming days.  

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