Word Lens: More Than Meets The Eye

You’ve probably heard about Word Lens by now. It’s a cool little iPhone app that lets you use the iPhone camera to translate the words on objects into another language, the resulting translation appearing in place of the original text on an image of the object itself. Very cool.

Sign in a restaurant in Dublin’s Temple Bar.

The Word Lens replacement translation.

Much of the industry debate has been been about the quality of the translation (as good or bad as you might expect) or positioning the app within a category of other mobile translation apps while speculating what would happen if you plugged the thing into Google Translate or something similar.

My own tests of the app’s translation accuracy were disappointing (see the images above). But, for me, the real innovation here is the augmented reality aspect to the device. For the first time (that I know of, anyway), we have a freely available app (though those dictionaries you pay for) that allows practical augmented reality and translation to come together in a very cool user experience paradigm.

It’s the user experience that’s important here to focus on here, not the linguistic quality. It also serves to remind me that we need to expect innovation in the translation space to come from outside what we consider to be the GILT industry and not from within.

Watch out for more user experience issues (personalization, augmented reality, natural user interfaces, and so on) coming to the fore in the localization space in 2011.

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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