I’m not a big Apple, iPhone or gadget slave, but augmented reality definitely holds potential. This new iPhone app is pretty brilliant, for example: it translates words and text it sees on the screen immediately, and does so in the same font style and lay-out as the original text. One step further into a Star Trek world.
Word Lens for the iPhone is one of the most amazing apps we have ever seen. Take a look at this, but put down any hot liquids first.
It’s an augmented-reality, OCR-capable translation app, but that’s a poor description. A better one would be “magic.” Word Lens looks at any printed text through the iPhone’s camera, reads it, translates between Spanish and English. That’s pretty impressive already — it does it in real time — but it also matches the color, font and perspective of the text, and remaps it onto the image. It’s as if the world itself has been translated.
Impressed? You’re not the only one. John Gruber of Daring Fireball puts it best: “[It's] as though near-future time travelers started sending us apps instead of Terminators.”
We’ve tested the app, and it works just as shown in the video. In demo mode, it can rearrange (or blank out) any text in the camera’s field of vision. You need to purchase translation packs to do the actual translation.
In our tests, it worked smoothly, although the words had a tendency to wiggle around a bit, switching between English and Spanish and flipping between alternate translations. You could get the gist of a sentence, but not read it clearly. Holding the camera very steady helped mitigate the “wiggling” effect.
Word Lens is a taste of science fiction, something like a visual version of the universal translator or the Babelfish. Only instead of being a convenient device to avoid movie subtitles, it’s a real, functioning tool.
Word Lens is free, and will do some fancy rearranging of words to show you how it works. The Spanish-English and English-Spanish dictionaries are in-app purchases, for $5 each, and the app runs offline — perfect for when you’re traveling. You can pick your coffee back up, now.