Tue 12th Jun 2012 at 08:30

The first really useful use for augmented reality I have seen

I recently went on holiday to the south of France and I don't mind admitting that my French isn't what it should be and rely on my wife a bit too much. However, while I was over there my wife was looking for an off-line phrase book / dictionary to save us from looking too much like tourists when we were in the cafes and restaurant. After a few downloads and quite a few mutterings of "it said it was supposed to work off-line" and "it doesn't even know that word", I heard her angelic voice saying "Oh wow, look at this!"

What she had discovered was an iPhone app called Word Lens by a company called Quest Visual.

Not only did this app work off-line (yes no Internet required! That means no hefty data charges!) and translates French to English with enough words to satisfy Sarah, but it did this visual by pointing the iPhone's camera at the written words. Yes, it was an augmented reality application and the first use of augmented reality that I have found truly useful and has seriously got me excited. So, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) Technology is not new, however, to capture text, translate and then replace the original text with the translation all on a moving camera lens, is quite impressive in my opinion. I have used applications like this previously, however, they have always involved me taking a static picture of the document in question, and then passing it through the translator and being presented with a text document, which when looking at menu's is not always the easiest way to translate.

My only real frustration is that this is an iPhone App only. Yes, no Android version. To quote their FAQ

Our goal was to get a great first release on one platform. Keep in touch!

I have seen rumours that they have started on an Android version, but there is currently no evidence of this, certainly there is nothing more than the statement in the FAQ if their website.


The app it's self is free, however, the language packs are £6.99 each. In the world of "Apps", this may seem steep, but when you consider that it does not require the Internet, the savings in roaming data charges should be considered. It should also be noted that translations are not always accurate, which they openly admit, I do have to agree wholeheartedly with their statement

The translation isn’t perfect, but it gets the point across.

You can download this via iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/word-lens/id383463868 or searching for "Word Lens" from the store on your apple device.

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