AI boosts Microsoft Translator for iPhone

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Microsoft Translator
Need to talk to the waiter in a French restaurant? Microsoft Translator wants to help, even if you're offline.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Microsoft Translator has been around for a while, but this app is getting a huge improvement: artificial intelligence-powered translations even when the iPhone is offline.

Using translation apps in a foreign country can be nerve wracking.  Such software almost always depends on remote servers to do the hard work. Microsoft, however, has squeezed the necessary AI into a mobile app.

The company introduced AI-powered neural machine translation (NMT) in 2016. This uses neural networks and machine learning to provide far better results than earlier efforts. But it required an Internet connection. 

In the intervening years, developers optimized these algorithms until they can run on a smartphone. Microsoft promises they’re 23 percent better, and about 50 percent smaller, than the previous non-neural offline language packs.

The Microsoft Translator app supports Arabic (Modern Standard), Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Microsoft Translator coming soon

Microsoft Translator has already been submitted to Apple for approval. Those who are eager to get it can download the current version, which will be updated to the neural-based  one as soon as it’s available. This software is free to download and use.

For those who want the most basic service, Siri in iOS 11 can translate into five other languages. But there’s a big caveat: translations don’t yet work in the other direction.