It's very fashionable online nowadays to criticize early adopters of Google Glass, the computerized glasses. Commenters regularly deride people who appear in public wearing Google Glass, referring to them as "glassholes." The assumptions is that someone wearing Google Glass is just like the jerk who spends all their time on their smartphone, but multiplied to the nth degree.
But these critics don't seem to understand the potential benefits of what tech companies call augmented reality. Imagine going to a party, and everyone's name, profession, and dating status floats in the air above their head. Imagine a doctor being able to look at you, and immediately see medical data and images appear on your body. Imagine a mechanic glancing at your car and having the problem part light up. Imagine going to the mall, and floating arrows lead you directly to the store, and even the very product, you're looking for.
Your smartphone already has apps that take advantage of augmented reality, capturing images from your phone's camera and overlaying them with information from the Internet. Some apps let you point your phone at the sky, and overlay it with astronomical data. Others let you peer at your surroundings, and get information about local businesses.
Now Google has purchased Word Lens, a futuristic app that translates foreign languages in real time using your iPhone or Android device's built-in camera. Even the most linguistically- and technologically-challenged traveler can feel like a native. When traveling in a foreign country, Word Lens users simply hold up their phone to a sign — and the camera will immediately translate it, even approximating a similar typeface.
It's actually very simple. The way it works is: you launch the app, choose the direction of translation (French>English, Portuguese>Italian), point your device's camera at the text to be translated — and the translation immediately pops up on the screen. It's like something you would see in an episode of The Jetsons. For now at least, users have the choice of translating between English and Portuguese, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian. Pretty soon, and probably for a small charge, the app will be able to translate any language.
The app was released in 2010 by a company called Quest Visual, and is completely free — for a limited time. And let's not forget to mention the most mind-blowing part of this little app: it does not require a costly network connection! The program and its data all live in your phone, so unlike with Siri, you don't need to be online. So, now you can see why Google decided to purchase this amazing application.
The app does have a little bit of a downside — it has trouble with curvy or fanciful writing or text, and it might make a mistake or two when translating. But for the most part, you will understand what it means.
Word Lens is definitely an app worth having on every smartphone. It might become a traveling essential, along with your travel pillow and 3 oz. plastic bottles. And you should probably invest in the FREE app now, before Google slaps on it as heavy a price as a Rosetta Stone package.