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IBM gives handhelds multilingual voice

Big Blue will start selling its ViaVoice Translator software--capable of translating English to and from German, French, Italian and Spanish--for Pocket PC-based personal digital assistants.

IBM is looking to bring a foreign tongue to the repertoire of PDAs.

Big Blue on Wednesday will start selling its ViaVoice Translator, software for PDAs (personal digital assistants) that use Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system. IBM's software will translate English to and from German, French, Italian and Spanish.

The ViaVoice Translator is part of a new push by IBM, Hewlett-Packard and several small start-ups to give handhelds a voice. For example, a PDA that HP is developing will take photos, scan them for foreign text and translate the text into any number of languages. And the Phraselator talking PDA uses speech-recognition software to translate military commands for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The device is built by Marine Acoustics and sold by VoxTec, both of Middletown, R.I.

The problem with translation software is it uses up a lot of memory in PDAs, and IBM concedes that the ViaVoice Translator is no different. IBM recommends that people increase their PDA's memory with an extra 128MB of RAM if they plan to install the software package.

The software, priced at $50, will be available by download on IBM's Web site and sold on CDs at retail outlets.