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Microsoft challenges Google with its own translator app

The new app is covering all the bases, launching for iOS, Android and even the Apple Watch and Android Wear smartwatches.

Microsoft's translation app now supports iOS and Android mobile devices and smartwatches.
screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Watch out, Google. Microsoft now has its own translator app available for a variety of devices.

Released Thursday, Microsoft Translator is a new app designed by the software giant for iOS and Android users. The app supports phones and tablets as well as the Apple Watch and smartwatches that run Android Wear, Google's adaptation of its mobile software for wearables.

You can type or speak the word or phrase you want translated. In response, the app shows you the translated text on the screen and then speaks it for you. You can also and copy and paste text from and to other apps for translation. At this point, Microsoft Translator supports 50 different languages, including English, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Russian.

Microsoft has already been serving up language translation via its Bing website along with apps for its Windows Phone mobile operating system and its Windows 10 desktop software. The company also offers translation through its Skype Translator program, which is soon due to become part of the Skype app itself. But this is the first expansion of Microsoft's translation app to the world of iOS and Android mobile devices and smartwatches.

With the new app, Microsoft is entering into Google territory -- the search giant has long offered translation services on the Web as well as for iOS and Android. Google's Translate app is more advanced in at least two respects. It lets you point your mobile device's camera at a sign, book or other object with text on it and watch as that text is automatically translated into the language of your choice. Google's Translate app also supports 90 different languages for text-based translation. Google does not make a version of its app for Android Wear smartwatches, offering an advantage to Microsoft.

Microsoft Translator provides several benefits to Apple Watch wearers. You can speak directly into your watch to get an instant translation in any of the 50 different languages. The app can correctly pronounce the phrase for you through your watch. And all your translations and settings are synchronized between your watch and your phone.

Microsoft Translator for the Apple Watch and Android Wear watches is a brand new companion app built from scratch as part of the company's research into translation for wearables, a spokesman for Microsoft said. The app does use the same Microsoft Translator cloud service that powers the Windows apps, Skype Translator, the Office translation feature, Cortana on Windows 10 and the Bing translator site.

How is the app scoring among users? Quite well. At Apple's App store, only 13 people have reviewed it so far, but collectively they've given it a score of 4.5 stars out of 5. And at the Google Play store, a total of 426 reviews have also earned the app a 4.5 rating.

In my brief use of Microsoft Translate, I found the app quick and simple to use. You can easily switch between typing or speaking the words you want translated. You can speak or type your phrase and see or hear the translation in one language. You can then choose other languages to hear the same phrase in a different language. The app did not offer spoken translations in certain languages, such as Hebrew, Thai and Vietnamese. But otherwise, it provided text and speech for most of the languages I chose.

The Microsoft Translator service supports "text to text" translation for over 50 languages, the Microsoft spokesman said. The service provides text to speech capability for a subset of those languages, which is why certain languages do not offer spoken translation. Microsoft continues to work on adding more languages that do support spoken translation, the spokesman added.