Word Lens: Augmented reality language translation app for iPhone

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Sweet fancy wookiees, y'all, this new iPhone app sure is making the blog and tweet rounds today. The idea behind Word Lens is this: point your iPhone's camera lens at text out there in the world (a restaurant menu, a street sign), and the app translates that text instantly. The promise is a form of augmented reality assistance that breaks down language barriers.

As with many Cool New Things, this initial launch is pretty useless in real-world, practical terms, but is wicked cool and a lot of fun. I would not rely on this app to accurately translate important signs on my next trip to a foreign nation—"Do not touch nuclear waste!," for instance.

The free demo version allows you to do stuff like flip viewed text backwards. English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English translation engines will set you back $5 each. And boy do they suck! Like everything important, I tested it out on LOLcats. The image in this post is Word Lens wrestling with "What is this I don't even." Indeed!

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(image provided by app developer, YMMV...)

But what matters to me is the significant first step this represents. Early voice recognition and text-to-speech software were klunky too. And remember the early days of Babelfish, or the even crappier translation programs that preceded it? All grew more refined as new iterations come to pass.

This is magic. And magic needs time to evolve.

Word Lens in the iTunes App Store.

Around the web: Washington Post, New York Times, Ars Technica, LA Times, CNET.

Demo video: