Last year when Steve Jobs showcased the iphone4's FaceTime tech to the world, he was as giddy as a school boy saying he tapped into his childhood days of watching Star Trek on TV, where he imagined the possibility of a time where jet packs and video telephony were widely available in the not so distant future. Well, the tech did arrive decades later only to see the boy now in his mid 50's heading a tech corporation with a moniker as C.T.O. (Chief Thinking Officer) still playing it cool in his now trademark look in Levis 501's and black turtleneck, a true testament to his or any generation that "even hippies do dream of electric apples", without the aid of contrabands mind you. He did somehow manage to bring video calls to a broader spectrum of the world thanks to the ever rising popularity and fondness of the Apple brand.
One thing, however, that eluded his dream and was more of mine, interestingly enough, also spurs from the Star Trek universe; that being a universal translator that has saved the hinds of many Enterprise crew members when interacting with alien life forms; coming second only to the teleporter. You see, negations often fail with other intelligent life as is the case they either find you smug looking, or your goatee doesn't sit well with their scaly tentacles protruding from their chins. So Scotty does come in handy.
For us non-Trekkers however, with no foreseeable future in deep space, comes fresh out of the Google Labs the very brilliant Google Translate
; an app that just opens the world to you fresh with possibilities to socially interact with people who speak and write dialects foreign form yours.
Google Translate has all the world’s leading languages: Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, German, Korean, Italian, Swedish, Finish, Afrikaans, Portuguese, Arabic, Hindi and countless more. Almost all of the popular languages have full audio support as well, with a few notable ones, like Persian, to be added soon. I was surprised at the voice-over talent used here, I’m talking authentic native speakers with proper accents, pronunciations and the warmth often not found in most automated voices. Just to give you a breakdown in numbers, you can translate text between 57 languages! It also boasts voice recognition, so you can translate by speaking into the mic instead of typing it out. This, however, is limited to 15 languages it can identify through speech recognition. And lastly, you can listen to your translations spoken aloud in 23 languages presently.
The Japanese voice over talent had me on the floor nestling into a fetal position finally feeling the warmth and acceptance of Gaia (Japanese deity likened as Mother Earth). That was my very first reaction, the second was more hormonal driven one, with a sinister grin across my face (falling only short of the Joker's) towards the possibility of charming the pants off coco caramel Goddesses hailing from japan, Spain & France; a humble list indeed.
Me and a former alumni who's fluent in Japanese both written and spoken in the three more popular forms, have often discussed the possibility of scouring the streets of Japan, Shinjuku district or Akihabara street interacting with fellow Otakus & Cosplaying girls, having a merry old time. The only predicament that would come about from any such pleasure or business trip is that one would have to channel their thoughts and emotions through an interpreter, and depending who that is, could work for you or against you. I've often been to destinations where I could swear my guide was in cahoots with souvenir stores and cabbies, skimming more off me and at the same time ridiculing my eager photo clicking of just about any structure that registered as a significant landmark in my mind.
Just to give you an idea, a digital translator, one that’s limited to English and Japanese with audio support, retails around $400 or more approximately, which also totally eliminates the other popular business and widely used languages at popular holiday destinations around the world.
Google Translate offers more dialects than any of the commercially available devices, and overtime will see more revisions being made through updates. New languages will be added with full audio support and speech recognition that presently exist only in text form.
I've monkeyed around with the app in just about any language that I have a vague, fragmented grasp of, and I’ll assure you it's spot on with the accents. The Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and French accents astounded me the most; the Hindi one gave me a chuckle or two for as a native it's amusing at the very least.
The presentation is very simple with a blue palette, similar to color schemes found in other apps such as Google search, which, by the way, is also a recommended download as it has voice recognition, allowing you to generate search results only through a mere blurb. The translated excerpt can be enlarged to full screen, say if the person on the other end is hard of hearing, or you simply do not have the audio support of the language. It’s easy to copy & paste text to other apps such as email, text messages, etc. Also, the most commonly used translated phrases by you is under Favorites, coming in handy on the fly.
I only hope that in the coming months Google will incorporate the option of translation via imagery or live video feed through augmented reality support, where one can focus using the camera on a street sign, newspaper, books, fliers, tickets, documents etc. And that it will end up with translated text such as other image recognition text translators which retail on the App Store, but are mostly gimmicky and glitchy. Google already has Google Goggles (part of their Google Mobile App
) where it scans movie posters, books, just about any household brand, luxury goods such as watches , handbags, FMCG products, celebrities and gives an astonishingly accurate result through its findings. Just try using it on your shoes or anything that an evil corporation has manufactured and it will show you its roots. Such addition to Google Translate would be the unicorn at the end of the rainbow next to a pot of gold minus the demonic leprechaun.
It amazes me how much the iPhone has enriched my life with its array of useful applications coming in full use of my practical life time and time again. I recently had a loved one planted with an iphone4 who up until now is a staunch Sourberry user, and I saw the gleam in her eyes coming only from a handful of apps on her iPhone 4. It was the very same look that Pikachu has before going into battle with a trick up its sleeve, or when it sees a dinner table laden full of its favorite treats. So my take is, you Apple lovers go out there and reach out to those friends in need who type away on tiny QWERTY and small screens, and tell them that there happen to be other fruits out there that one should savor.