This past weekend I was at a wedding where the bride, groom, and both of their families came from different sides of the Pacific Ocean (Japan and central California to be precise). At the party the night before the ceremony a few of us broke out our phones to play with translation apps, which of course, led to comical results.
One of the highlights was when the groom-to-be (who happens to be bilingual) looked at my attempt to translate "I think you've had enough beer," from English to Japanese and said "That's good, but far too formal. You basically just said that like David Attenborough."
Shortcomings aside, there is something to be said about instant, on-the-fly translation. It may not always be perfect, but it's certainly better than nothing.
To aid in this process, Google's Goggles software, which remains an Android-exclusive ( ), has been freshly updated to translate text that has been captured by your phone's camera. Google has essentially embedded in its Google Translate service (which exists as another standalone app for Android). The new option shows up as a button just beneath whatever text is captured. Just like identifying works of art, books, CDs, and buildings, you just have to take a photo and it does the rest.
One very nice new feature to come along with this is a live crop of what's on your camera's screen. This lets you select a free-form box around the region you'd like captured, which can be helpful for things like menus, or any other busy piece of paper where you want to focus on one part.
For the ultimate translation tool, Android users will still want to keep around Google's standalone Google Translation app, which pulls from the same results. The reason for this is to retain the live speech-to-text translation which can save you some keystrokes if you're pecking out something that's not on a written page. Maybe Google will even embed similar, photo-taking prowess into that app for the sake of simplicity.