Dec. 17, 2010 at 12:06 PM ET
It's one of the stock sci-fi fantasies: Look at a sign written in another language, and it's instantly translated. And it's here, now. An iPhone app called Word Lens interprets words it sees on signs while cleverly attempting to maintain the original look of the sign. But like most language-to-language software, at this point it's mostly good for hilarious mistranslations.
The app itself is free, but each language module costs $4.99, and currently there are only two: English to Spanish and Spanish to English. (I would love to see Japanese or Chinese, as they are the hardest signs for travelers to understand, but that might be a while. Co-creator Otavio Good told TechCrunch that they'd likely be going for French next, followed by Italian and Portuguese. Good added, “The translation isn’t perfect, but it gets the point across.”
I'd like to beg to differ there.
As you can see, the pitch, above, and the reality of my actual testing, below, are two different things. Even something as Freshman Spanish as "Peligro - Se require casco en esta area" gives it mounds of trouble, not to mention a light dusting of hilarity.
I deliberately pointed Word Lens at things written in rudimentary Spanish, stuff that would be practical. It's not just that it's not ready for Cervantes, it's not ready for los servicios.
If you're dying to see for yourself, here's the iTunes link. As for buying translation modules, you might want to check iTunes for updates before handing over your money.