There’s so much that’s impressive about the technology we all carry in our pockets that it’s easy to take it for granted. But one of the things that constantly amazes me when I see it in action is instant language translation.
Vocre (pronounced voh-creee) is a translation app that’s not new on the App Store, but has one important new feature: it’s free.
As of a few days ago, Vocre costs nothing and supports an impressive 23 global languages. And just this week, a private beta has begun offering live translated video calls.
In use, it is an excellent piece of work that could help you out of all kinds of sticky and weird situations while travelling. Assuming you have a good data connection, of course.
Vocre has two operational modes. Each one requires a little bit of training, but the app will guide you through each one the first time you use it. Hand-held mode makes use of your device’s accelerometer to flip a modal switch between recording and playing back the translated text – this takes a moment to get used to, but feels quite natural after that. It also helps in situations where you’re speaking to someone who hasn’t seen the app before. All they need to do is watch how you speak then flip the device, and they’ll soon be able to copy the action themselves. So the gesture serves a double purpose – telling the phone when to translate, and acting as visual punctuation, helping your correspondent use the app without the need for undergoing the training steps themselves.
A simpler tabletop mode is more instantly obvious. Place the device flat on a table, then type or record some text to translate. The screen is divided into two working areas, one devoted to each language being spoken. It makes perfect sense for using on a table between two people.
Over wifi, the results really are pretty much instant, making the conversation flow quite naturally. One of Vocre’s demos shows business people from Germany and Spain securing a deal, and I can totally see an app like this helping out in situations like that, where the wifi is plentiful and there are no distracting background noises.
What I didn’t expect, and what impressed me even more, was the rapid translation times over 3G. Again, the responses came back within seconds. Speed is crucial to an app like this. Foreign taxi drivers won’t be pleased to be kept waiting while you fumble with translation gadgets of any sort, so getting the right text back to your phone super-fast is a big help.
That Vocre does such a good job of translating, and so quickly, is reason enough to download it for yourself. But if you want to take things one step further, take a quick look at this video:
This is what Vocre says is on offer in the 2.0 release, now in private beta. If you’d like to volunteer as one of their testers, you can sign up here.
Vocre is one of those apps that offers a glimpse of the future. I don’t mean the future we’ve already reached, with these incredible touch-screen portable computers in our pockets — I mean the next future, when interconnectivity and computing becomes so embedded in everything around us, that it starts to feel indistinguishable from magic.
Pro: Free; fast translations, even over 3G.
Con: Not a lot. Some people will complain about it being freemium, but hey, these people have to get paid too. You get a lot for nothing here.