December 17, 2019

The Top Translation Apps and Gadgets for Travelers

The state of the art in translation tech has been advancing rapidly. AI-driven neural machine translation, camera translation with improved OCR, and simultaneous two-way voice interpretation are all available to consumers at reasonable prices. But what really makes sense for the travelers or consumers who want to expand their social circle beyond those who speak English? What works for small businesses and Internet entrepreneurs looking to expand to new markets? We consider the best options on the market in various categories of translation tools — apps and gadgets — focusing on those that display the most impressive innovation.

The Bread and Butter in Online Translation Services: Text to Text Translation

Here we will not focus on text translation. In this category, Google Translate and Microsoft Translator battle it out at the top, with upstarts like DeepL challenging for German and other European languages and Baidu and WayGo taking top honors for Chinese and Asia translation. One translation company reports a dramatic improvement in quality due to the Artificial Intelligence discipline known as neural networks. Neural machine translation ingests an entire passage, translating contextually and holistically rather than going sentence by sentence sequentially as was done previously.

Camera Translation Services Comes to Maturity

One of the most exciting developments in machine translation involves applications that include what is generally called camera translation. These are the implementation of a tech niche know as Augmented Reality. AR differs from Virtual Reality (VR) in that it overlays an artificial construct as a layer above realistic views through the lens, such as you see on a smartphone screen or a head-mounted display. There are quite a few reliable camera translation apps out there, both for smartphones and standalone gadgets. But the basic idea is that you point a camera at a foreign language text and the translation is overlaid on the screen, above and usually replacing the words in the original image. This can be useful for reading signs and menus, among others.

Other Translating Apps and Gadgets for Travelers

Camera translation is not the only app of high value to visitors to and residents of foreign countries. A survey of the latest language translation apps and gadgets for travelers shows the diversity of offerings. The apps tend to be “freemium”, with a basic version downloadable for free and a premium version with additional features for nominal costs, usually a few dollars. The standalone gadgets tend to be available in the $100 to $200 range, some a bit less, some a bit more. They make nifty stocking stuffers for the travelers in your family or your road trip buddy.

  • A smaller translation and travel app getting rave reviews are Trip Lingo, combining travel phrases, audio files, and voice translation. You can even connect to a human translator for your desired language pair, paying by the minute. An annual subscription is $99.
  • Waygo is the way to go if you’re bound for Japan, Korea, Taiwan, or China. Many other apps have problems with these Asian languages. Baidu is worth considering too.

Two-Way Voice Interpreters: Audio Translation on Demand

Noteworthy among the features, both in apps and gadgets, is voice translation: the ability to talk into your phone or the translation gadget in your familiar language and having it come out as real-time translations, in the desired foreign tongue. While speech translation apps and gadgets usually have a brief delay for the translation to be performed, usually with the spoken language repeated, the process is quick enough that you can fluently and comfortably conduct a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak your mother tongue.

How do translation apps of this sort of work? There’s a four-step process: speech-to-text, text-to-speech, text-to-text translation, followed by foreign text-to-speech. In terms of translation accuracy, machine translation is still not equal to expert human translation. However, two-way speech interpreter apps are beginning to give professional interpretation services, such as simultaneous Spanish to English language translators, a run for their money.

translate, translation, web

Which Company Makes the Best Translation Apps?

Hundreds of millions of dollars is being sunk into translation initiatives of the top technology corporations in the world. The Big 5 techies known collectively as FAMGA – Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Apple – all have strong motives and business interests to achieve translation dominance to facilitate worldwide adoption of their products. We can assign the app leaders according to the following categories:

  • Consumer/SMB: Google Translate is best all-around in terms of features and usability
  • Corporate: Microsoft Translator is best for B2B and especially shines in one-to-many conference translations where the speaker’s words are simultaneously translated into the languages of each listener, all in real-time.
  • Ecommerce: Not surprisingly, Amazon has mastered translation for online shopping, providing merchants with apps highly tuned to the selling task
  • Apple is in a class of its own: iTranslate Voice is a lot like Siri – if that is, she could speak in more than 40 tongues. Just speak into your iPhone or iPad – it will repeat your words in your spoken language and then translates it to the desired foreign language.
  • Social Media: Facebook is training its Translation app on the comments and posts of its billion-plus users, writing and speaking in every tongue under the sun, so it has a leg up for the future in terms of the natural language as it is actually being spoken.

Which Translation Company Produces Best Translator Gadgets?

If you look for gadgets on Amazon, a couple of translation gadget companies rise to the top in terms of the variety of devices on offer.

  • Langogo tops the Amazon charts with a two-way voice translator device
  • Birgus has a long-standing reputation for voice translation gadgets
  • Mortentr offers a stylish gadget for two-way translation.

Looking to the Future of Translation Apps and Gadgets

How to improve translation apps? The progress in the last 5 years in this field is mind-boggling. But if there’s one not-yet-on-the-market app or gadget that comes to mind, it is the possibility of condensing to voice translation process in terms of time so that one would simply speaking into a smartphone or app, or possibly a head-mounted display, and have the foreign language instantaneously and accurately come out. That still is not on the horizon, but as AI and processing power continues to improve, it’s just a matter of time.

About the author 

Imran Uddin

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