Google is releasing a major update to Translate this week, making it much faster and easier to use the app for translating in-person conversations and printed text. The first big update is the inclusion of a feature called Word Lens, which comes from an app of the same name that Google bought last spring. The new feature lets you point your phone's camera at a sign or any other text and have it translated into another language, which will appear live on the screen in a sort of augmented reality. The update isn't live yet — so we can't say how effective Word Lens is inside of Translate — but Google's GIF of the new feature makes it look seriously impressive and like a tool you'll want to have when traveling:
The other big update is to Translate's real-time conversation feature, which is now becoming a lot closer to real-time. Previously, you had to select the two languages you wanted to translate between and then tap a button inside the app every time you wanted to start speaking — now, that's all been simplified. After the two languages have been selected, Translate just needs to be introduced to one of the speakers, after which it'll automatically pick up what language is being spoken and begin to translate it. This is also the first time that this mode will be available on iOS.
Google says that the update to Translate will be available on both iOS and Android within the next few days. These features have obviously been in the works for a while, but the release's timing is certainly interesting: Skype, owned by Microsoft, unveiled a similar real-time translation tool this time last month. The two companies appear to be targeting different audiences — Microsoft is specifically looking at schools, while Google discusses Translate as more of a personal tool — but the result, that it's now becoming easier than ever to avoid a language barrier, is very much the same.