NTT Docomo, Japan's largest mobile phone network, has announced the release of a call translator app for Android handsets, that will translate calls and texts, allowing international users to communicate with each other in their native tongue.
The app is scheduled to be released on Nov 1st, and the initial languages supported are Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese. More languages will be added in coming months, including French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.
The app will be free to download, and will work on Android devices running on Android 2.2 and above. Users of the service will only pay for any related call and data charges.
The app, called Hanashite Hon'yaku, works by processing the speech via the cloud, so there will be a short delay in conversations as the speech is translated. Complicated speech may be a problem at the outset, and the app can struggle with regional dialects. Improvements to the service will come in the future, and as more and more people use the service, the better it will become at handling more complicated speech patterns.
To use Hanashite Hon'yaku, users just use the app to place a call. Calls can be to another mobile, or to a landline, in Japan or overseas. In addition, the service can be used for face-to-face conversations, with the two speakers sharing the smartphone. For this part of the service, only data charges may apply, as there is no 'call' being made.
Complimenting the Hanashite Hon'yaku app is an augmented reality application called Utushite Hon'yaku. This translates written text on the fly, and currently supports translation between Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.
Utushite Hon'yaku works on Android phones and Tablets, running Android 2.3 or above. The app is provided free of charge, and can be used with menus in restaurants, road signs, billboards and other printed word media. By launching the app, users then point the camera of their phone towards the printed text. The text is then translated, and shown in the display of the phone, in real time.
The two apps are only for the Japanese market, but versions for other markets around the world are bound to become available soon. Google are working hard on producing instant speech translation for Android devices, as are Samsung. Future development of Siri on the iPhone is sure to include voice translations, no doubt. The science fiction Star Trek universal translator is soon to be very much a reality.