Google boosts handwriting feature in Google Translate

The Web giant now gives users the ability to handwrite 45 different languages on their smartphone and tablet screens and instantaneously get a translation.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
The handwriting tool for Google Translate. Google

Imagine you're visiting Japan, can't read Japanese, and are trying to get across town on a bus. It's impossible to understand what the maps and station names say and it's even more confusing to look up the characters in a language dictionary. Well, Google has created a possible solution to this problem.

The Web giant announced Wednesday that it was bringing its handwriting tool to the Google Translate homepage. This means that when users see a word or character they don't understand they can simply go to Google Translate, draw it on their smartphone or tablet screen, and the program should be able to translate it.

"Handwriting input lets you translate a written expression, even if you don't know how to type the characters," Google product manager Xiangye Xiao wrote in a blog post. "For example, suppose you see the Chinese expression '[the character in the image above]' and want to know its meaning in English, but have no idea how to type these characters. Using the new handwriting input tool, you can simply draw these characters on your screen and instantly see the translation."

Now, with this handwriting feature, figuring out that word on the Japanese bus map could be a whole lot easier.

Google has been working on the handwriting tool for Google Translate for the last year. In January 2012, it brought the first phase of handwriting input to Google Translate for Android; and, this past February, it updated its Google Input Tools by adding in new virtual keyboards and transliteration tools. Google Translate now has handwriting support for 45 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Lao, and Yiddish.

Currently, the handwriting feature for Google Translate is only available on Android.