Google Translate now for iPhone

Thursday, August 7, 2008 | 10:30 PM

A few months ago I was planning a vacation to Austria and Italy. I knew a few words and phrases in German and Italian, but that was about it. So I looked around for some portable language dictionaries. I thought Google Translate was great, but the web page didn't work that well on the iPhone. So I teamed up with David Singleton, a fellow engineer in our London office, to build an iPhone interface for Google Translate.

Google Translate for iPhone is optimized for speed, supports all of the existing Google Translate language pairs, and uses a client-side data-store on your iPhone to hang on to your past translations so you always have them at hand, even if you can't use the local data network. We wrote this using the AJAX Language API, so every time the Google Translate team updates the languages they support, the languages will automatically be added here.

I tried an early version of this interface out on my trip and it was great -- although my pronunciation wasn't. So every now and then, I would just hold up my phone to let people read what I couldn't. If you're wondering about data costs, I found that I could get between 200 and 400 translations in 1MB of data download. Although we don't charge for this service, your carrier may charge for the data usage so be sure to know what your roaming rates are. For my plan, I found that I could translate 400 phrases for less than $10 when roaming internationally.

To try Google Translate for iPhone, point your iPhone or iPod Touch web browser to www.google.com and choose the "more" tab. Or you can go directly to translate.google.com in your browser. If you are traveling this summer (perhaps on your way to Beijing?) we hope you find this useful.

69 comments:

Ondrej said...

the mobile version of translation webpage has its advantages, however, it almost disables the website translation functionality for more powerful mobile devices such as iphone or ipod touch. Since on these devices the regular translation webpage is not available (the mobile version loads instead), could you add the option for entering or at least automatically recognizing an URL?

Craig said...

This is great stuff. Good work! Love it

Guilherme Neto said...

thats great stuff! but i wish the icon for the home screen wasnt sooo ugly!

James said...

Good work, both of you, that does look neat!

I second Ondrej's request; one of my pet hates is when a site detects I'm using a phone and "intelligently" downgrades me to a cut-down version of itself. National Rail does this (or certainly did last time I tried), the infuriating irony being that their full version works fine on the iPhone, but the PDA version they started redirecting me to did not. On top of the inconvenience, my inner geek objects to the idea of someone putting in additional effort in order to reduce the functionality available!

It always seemed odd to me, though, that you have to specify the input language: if you can understand, say, French well enough to translate it, surely you can usually distinguish it from German or Italian without being told which it is? (Obviously there are some corner cases, like "chips" which could be English or French, but in the general case you should be able to do it automatically.)

Dan McCall said...

It would be great if when you clicked on the translated line, the iPhone would say the phrase outloud!

Paul said...

Even cooler would be if you could take a photo of some text, say a sign, and it used OCR to put the text into the translator automatically. It saves the time of inputting it manually. The OCR improvement would be even more useful in a place, say China or Japan, that doesn't have a written language based upon the Latin character set!

camilo said...

Great, but the translation to Spanish is wrong. That's why they are involving humans, to improve where computer translation fails. Google you are scary.

jamdaddy said...

sometimes the translations, to spanish for instance, do not work perfectly. consuelo gives me back Consuelo (I guess it is thinking the name and not the noun for consolation or comfort). so i'd like it if it could output multiple meanings, more like other dictionaries will. That said, the full google translate site does the same, so not your iPhone app's issue. Plus it's FREE and gets a large number of single word translations right on, so i'm not mad about it and the interface is simple and clean! thanks for the good work and hopefully this gets expanded!

rudy said...

you guys should make more native apps for the iphone.

jamesu said...

Nice work. My only criticism would be that it doesn't work offline so you need to make sure you have connectivity before you launch it (assuming you closed the browser window). Not so easy on an iPod touch.

Short of making a proper app, you could try using the "data:/" URI hack which still lets you store data in the database.

lawngnomelover said...

I am an expat in vietnam, and translate does not respect my mobile language preference (English), instead using Vietnamese. It isn't hard to figure out, but annoying. Great idea.

Warriorlibrarian Christian said...

another one asking for a nifty icon for this nice add on that aligns smoothly with the icons for other google stuff like gmail, calendar, blogger, news and and and ... sure would add to the quick navigation on the iphone or ipod touch

pixelateddsgns said...

It's not Googles fault that Apple doesn't let iPhone/Touch users change screen icons. Just zoom around on a part of the page then take the screenshot, thats all it is for the icons, and use that. Granted it's not a overused Web 2.0 looking clone icon but it's better than a fully zoomed out page 54x54 pixel screen.

Tom said...

It would be very useful to be able to email the translation, especially since there is no copy/paste option on the iPhone or iPod touch

vmohar98 said...

I think the translation to hindi requires some work - try phrases like "how much for these apples" or "how far is the airport" - you can make out what the translation is trying to say but the hindi words are a little a messed up - but other than that - this is an awesome app - thanks for making it avail on the iPhone.

SdGH said...

getting data when roaming?? it's too expensive.

Kai said...

Can I use this for google pages and google reader, too? Somehow google presents me Spanish content when in Spain, even when I log in with my account that is cleary set to English. *sighs* No idea how to fix that or who to contact.

Tom said...

What about a Symbian client?

Munjal said...

It's great to have Google translate on iPhone; however, AT&T data connectivity rates in Europe and Asia are exorbitant. Would any really use this tool when (s)he has to pay US$ 1 for translating a single sentence???

I think a native app with data store might be an useful alternative.

Candace said...

Add Turkish!!

Crisaol said...

The translate to Spanish isn't good. "can you take me to the airport please" is "Puede llevarme al aeropuerto, por favor?

But It's better than nothing :) Well Work.

David said...

Ok, this is really a great program. Thank you to Google for providing this sort of thing. NOW, PLEASE... APPLE GIVE US AN UPDATE SO WE CAN READ ARABIC ON THE IPHONE.

Eric Scouten said...

So ... umm ... it's nice that Translate, Mail, even Reader all have nice iPhone specific interfaces.

Why doesn't Search have an iPhone interface?

Andrew said...

Hi - I'm using Google Translate on my HTC TyTN II running Windows Mobile 6.1 - the screen layout is not really optimised for this mobile device - is there a version that works better on this device? Or could it be created?

Thanks,
Andrew
Lausanne, Switzerland

chris said...

How about optimising for other devices - mainly Windows Mobile 6.1, on HTC Touch.

If you could do this before I go on holiday on 30th August, even better!!

cuqui said...

Andrew "is there a version that works better on this device"

Try using the Opera Mobile browser , it renders most websites as good as the iphone does.

superm401 said...

If iPhone is allegedly "the most advanced web browser ever on a portable device" (Apple's words), why can't it support HTML standards? Why instead is everyone expected to dumb down their code for the iPhone?

Shaya said...

This is a great feature, but has one major issue.

There should be a way to change the interface language. The site kind of outsmarts itself by setting the interface language based on GEOip. Assuming you're traveling in a foreign country, and don't speak the language, you're stuck using an interface you can't understand.

MJL said...

Japanese:
It is great that it shows the native script, but can u put in the furigana as I can read the hiragana but not the kanji, it would be helpful...even more so for most, transliteration into Romanji. Thanks!

Andy Bryant said...

What about adding a version that'll work on any mobile browser. We don't all have iPhones you know!

Opera Mobile Beta 9.5 is good.

gsmprofile.com said...

Great News!
Now the traveler those who have an iPhone they can easily solve their Language problem by using their Google Translate on their phone.

It was important to do...

Jaime said...

Same feedback as above: there should be a way to change the interface language with a clear "English" text somewhere in there.

Otherwise it defeats the purpose if you're travelling!

Hate to be English-centric but it's really the only way and English the most common language. Otherwise, ha! try accessing the site from Hong Kong, as I am trying to do right now!

slimhinne said...

Hi guys!

It would be great if the user could access Google translate natively, with the opportunity to download the individual language dump from the database.

(e.g. there's a native wikipedia app. which one can download the english dump only)

REALLY hope this would be made possible by google, 'cause before I get my 3G unlimited plan in my country for a decent prize - which is a long way off - storing the information locally is a must.

If this app already exists, please correct me and point me in the right direction - but if not; make it so! (please) :)

rickard said...

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Steve [[Roar]] said...

Will Blogger Ever See Iphone Versions Like Wordpress?

sibir said...

I used this app a lot last summer in Russia (unlocked iPhone with local SIM) and loved it. Now that I need it again I see there have been changes:
1. translate.google.com no longer brings up the iPhone version (no problem).
2. Going there via "more" leaves a second bar at the top taking up precious screen space (unfortunate).
3. my biggest feature wish has still not been implemented (am I the only one?): selective deletion of word pairs.
4. Even better if one could export the word lists or save them permanently.

Allen and David, are you still working on this?

Cheers, Martin.

pyrat said...

Hey, the iPhone version no longer works, is it an issue with detecting the iPhone browser or something more serious?

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Michael said...

i want to set parameters for google.com/translate(iphone) but this mobile version didnt work well. how I would set parameters using mobilesafari?

Storm rules said...

When will it be available for N95?!?