Remember the Babel Fish? As fans of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" will recall, it lived in your ear and immediately translated whatever language a person was speaking into whatever language you could understand.
Word Lens for iPhone works just like a Babel Fish, except it doesn't live in your ear, and it translates only printed text, not spoken words. But it's no less amazing.
Working a kind of magic I can't fully understand, Word Lens instantly translates whatever text your iPhone camera sees. Point it at a sign that's written in Spanish and you'll immediately see its English translation. Or go the other way: Point it at a menu that's written in English and you'll instantly see Spanish.
Ay caramba! Seriously, you have to see the app in action to fully appreciate it. So with that in mind, watch this:
This isn't some proof-of-concept video; this is how the app actually works. The translations happen on the fly, in real time, with no discernible delay. It's remarkable, especially considering that the app replaces the very text you see, in exactly the same size and orientation as you see it. It really is like wielding some magical language-translating lens.
Word Lens is free--but the dictionaries will cost you. The two that are currently available--English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English--cost $4.99 apiece. Which, let's face it, is peanuts for something as jaw-droppingly useful as this. If you want to see it in action, though, the app comes with two demo modes: one that reverses words, another that erases them.
This may just be the coolest thing I've seen my iPhone do all year.