Jibbigo: Your Star Trek Universal Translator For iPhone

Jibbigo

Calling all Star Trek fans out there: The iPhone 3Gs has a universal translator — Jibbigo. Speak into your iPhone in any of the five supported languages, and the iPhone speaks the translation back.

Jibbigo, by Mobile Technologies, is a bilingual translation app for the iPhone and iPod Touch that translates your speech directly into several different languages. The app currently supports English to Spanish, Japanese, Chinese or Iraqi, and visa versa. Each is sold separately. Jibbigo costs between $24.99 and $27.99 and is available for download via iTunes store link. Mobile Technologies says it will support other languages in the future.

Jibbigo Japanese Translation

A sample English to Japanese translation.

Jibbigo is easy to use, but like most voice-input apps, it works best in environments with low-to-moderate background noise, and you must speak clearly when using it. To start translating, you launch the app and record a sentence in English or one of the four foreign languages supported. Jibbigo then translates the spoken input into the appropriate language, displays the translated text, then speaks it using a synthesized voice with an included vocabulary of words for travelers in a variety of situations, including medical emergencies, restaurant settings, or general conversation.

To take full advantage of Jibbigo’s features, you’ll need an iPhone 3GS or a third-generation iPod Touch, since the app supports two-way translations on these devices. Other iPhones and iPods are limited to unidirectional translations, explained in this table that details what works and what doesn’t on each Apple device. We loaded the Spanish and Japanese versions onto an iPad and found that the apps worked just fine, but did not take advantage of the extra screen real estate.

Jibbigo worked well in our field tests, although it did make occasional small mistakes. We got a good laugh out of the way the app handles curse words — speaking one or more of these words results in a text translation of <beep> for each one.

We noticed that the app took a bit longer to launch then most apps, but other than that, we have no huge complaints. We’ll be happy when Jibbigo adds even more languages and we shared the app with various public officials who expressed a desire to have versions that could be used by police, fire, and EMS officials during emergency situations.

The app works well in tourist or travel situations and it it is useful in text translations — you simply enter the text and the app processes it the same way. Spoken words can be corrected using text entry before reprocessing the translation.

We used the apps in several Mexican and Japanese restaurants in the Houston area successfully carrying on conversations with the wait staff. In one case we jokingly asked the waitress if she thought we could pick up dates using the app at a local club and we got a giggle as she replied, “Tal vez!” — Maaaaayyybeeee! Oh well, at least we didn’t create an inter-galactic incident. The universal translation was very clear!

The bottom line is that if you find yourself in situations where any of these languages are useful and you can handle a few mistakes every so often then you cannot go wrong purchasing one of these apps.

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  • Gaf

    If this is so good why can’t I down load it and try for a day?

  • David A. Milman

    This is a really cool app, but it still needs some work in areas like Arabic language. Their website states that the only version of Arabic that is supported is Iraqi, which is strange. Why wouldn’t Modern Standard Arabic be worked on first (perhaps because the device is targeted for military needs?) Rescuecom offers a review of the product and talk a little bit about language translation in general, if you’re interested:
    http://www.rescuecom.com/blog/
    Overall, great app.

About the author

David W. MartinDavid W. Martin has more than 20 years of experience in the industry as a programmer, systems and business analyst, author, and consultant. David has written for CNET's iPhoneatlas.com, MacLife.com, CultofMac.com, BYTE.com and recently for aNewDoman.net. He comes to Cult of Mac's website with deep knowledge and passion for the all things Apple. Follow David on Twitter @david_w_martin or see what he's up to now at davidwmartin.com.

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