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Google Translate app update said to make speech-to-text even easier

The mobile app will soon be able to automatically pick up on a number of popular spoken languages and convert the speech to text, says The New York Times.

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Google's Translate app could get smarter. google

Google's translation app will be updated so it can recognize any popular spoken language and automatically translate it into text, according to a report in The New York Times.

Available in the Google Play store and Apple's App Store, the Google Translate app offers spoken and written translation among 90 languages. You can translate using speech, handwriting and even a camera. Sounds impressive already. So what improvements could be in in the works?

Currently you have to manually choose the source and destination languages. But the update will automatically recognize whatever language is being spoken, as long as it's a popular one, and then translate it into written text, The Times reported Sunday. (The story didn't specify the languages.) It said Google also will soon unveil a service where if you hold your phone up to a foreign sign you can see an automatic translation on the screen.

Translation apps and services are becoming more widespread and more portable. Google offers a translation feature via its website search results and directly through its Chrome browser. Microsoft also offers a Bing Translator. But there's an increasing need for mobile apps that can translate text on the fly and do it as quickly and accurately as possible, a la Star Trek's universal translator. Accuracy is the key as using computers to translate certain phrases and colloquialisms is still a technical challenge.

Last month, Microsoft launched a public preview of its Skype translator service, which can translate conversations both ways in near real-time. The New York Times reporter who tested the Skype translator found that the service made its share of mistakes but called it a "fundamental miracle" to be able to chat in real-time with someone speaking a different language.

Google did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.