You’ve seen the communicator device in Star Trek. It’s a small badge Starfleet officers wear on their left breast that incorporate a bunch of communication capabilities, among them the universal translator. It lets the crew communicate with alien species because it seamlessly translates any known language in real-time. Would you like something like that on your Android phone?
On Wednesday, Google announced they updated Google Translate app for Android. In case you missed it, the app takes advantage of Google’s popular cloud translation service of the same name to bring features like machine translation, romanization of non-Roman scripts and spoken translations to the Android platform.
The company also added a new capability called Conversation Mode. According to Google, Conversation mode sports a new interface within the app that’s "optimized to allow you to communicate fluidly with a nearby person in another language."
It’s mind-blowing. You simply press the mic icon and start speaking and the app will translate your speech and read the translation aloud. That’s not all, Google wrote, "your conversation partner can then respond in their language, and you’ll hear the translation spoken back to you." Do check out Conversation mode in action in a pair of below videos. Trust me, this is well worth your time.
The feature is experimental so expect a few quirks as you engage in a real-time speech translation session with your Japanese acquaintance. Due to its alpha stage, not all language pairs supported by Google Translate work in the Conversation mode and obviously speech recognition isn’t top quality.
Over time, however, Google should iron out bugs and dramatically improve what’s possible with this remarkable app. Soon enough, I hope, things like this will be common on our smartphones, making the dream of Star Trek communicator come true.