Translation apps are useful in two key ways: interpreting an unfamiliar foreign phrase in your native language, or else quickly translating your speech into another language as part of a conversation. The latter feature is now part of Microsoft Translator for both iOS and Android, Microsoft said Thursday—and powered by smartwatches, too.
Microsoft incorporated smartwatches into its Android Microsoft Translator app earlier this year, allowing users to dictate a phrase into the smartwatch mic, then display the results on the phone. The updated version of the app for Android and iOS takes this a step further, allowing back and forth conversation: One person can speak into the phone, and the translation appears on the smartwatch, and vice versa. Microsoft says these conversational features will work for Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The same translation engine powers Skype’s new automatic translation feature, which also includes Portuguese.
If the user lacks a smartwatch, he or she can still use the new app; two people can share a phone, but the display will be split in half so that both sides can see the screen at the same time.
What this means for you: I’ve used visual translation apps abroad with middling success, finding them helpful in museums where I can take pictures of exhibits and their descriptions. And I can see this new app proving useful for conversations, as well. Microsoft says that the device-to-device translation allows you to have a more “comfortable and fluid translated conversation,” free from background noise and without the need to huddle around a phone. That’s probably true. Just keep in mind that if you do hand your phone to a stranger, while holding on to your watch, there’s always the risk of theft.