The Microsoft Translator team has been hard at work lately, working to build the technology into Skype, adding new languages, and adhering to the cross platform mantra that now pervades the company by offering both iOS and Android apps. Those apps have been downloaded over a million times, and when the team was looking for new ways to help users in their day-to-day translation needs, they turned not only to iOS and Android phones, but to their companion smartwatches as well.
Skype Translator works very well when you’re needing to translate conversations across the internet, but what about those face to face conversations? How do you translate conversations when you’re travelling, asking for directions, or trying to have a discussion across languages? Now you can with the new conversation features announced today that work not only with your phones, but with their companion smartwatches if you have them.
I was able to spend a bit of time with Olivier Fontana from Microsoft Translator earlier this week, and we tried out the new features on an Android phone and watch. Olivier handed me the phone, and he used the Translator app to speak, in French, into the watch. Just a few seconds later, the phone showed the translated text, in English. The conversation features will work across any of Microsoft Translator’s seven languages: Chinese Mandarin, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and now Portuguese.
If you have the Microsoft Translator app on your phone, but no watch, the new conversation features will still work, placing the two languages in landscape split-screen mode, making it easy to set the phone between two people. The idea was to provide a means for real time face to face translation without having to require both parties to have apps, or even two phones. You can simply go up to someone, offer them a look at your phone, and begin translations.
Fontana told me that the features will work from any of the supported languages to any other, from French to Italian, for example, but behind the scenes these translations are actually 3 way, with English being the common language. In other words, the translation would be from French to English, and then from English to Italian. This works because of the volume of translation data that the company holds is much greater for translations to and from English, and Fontana said that there’s very little degradation translating phrases this way.
Fontana also said that although there was nothing to announce at this time, we can expect new languages to be added sometime next year.
Further reading: Microsoft Translator, Skype