Language barriers are pretty low in today’s connected world, with many simple phrases just a web search away. But for international travelers, that search could cost them big in overseas data charges. Many translation apps allow users to store some phrases on their device, but if users don’t think of a particular phrase beforehand, they’re out of luck.
Microsoft may be changing that. An update out today for the Microsoft Translator for Android app allows users to download entire languages for offline translations, powered by a “deep neural network.”
“Since we launched the Microsoft Translator app for Android last August, one of the key user requests was to support offline translations for situations where Internet access was unavailable or cost prohibitive, such as with international roaming,” said a blog Microsoft post announcing the update.
The deep neural network, a form of machine learning, has been used in the online version of Translator for almost a year. The machine learning tech is also behind some of the weirdest projects coming out of Redmond, including dog breed ID app Fetch and age guesser How-Old.
The offline language packs are only available for nine languages right now, including simplified Chinese, French, German and Vietnamese, but Microsoft says more will be added soon. Each pack is about 200MB, so you’ll need some space on your phone. However, giving up the space of a few pictures is better than being stranded in a foreign land and not being able to communicate.
The offline translation service is starting with Android, but iOS users are getting a neat new Translation feature as well today: they can now translate words in a saved image. Now you can snap a picture of a menu or billboard to read just what the locals can read.
The feature has been available on Windows and Windows Phone versions of Translator since 2010, so this is rounding out the iOS version. And Microsoft is somewhat playing catchup to Google, which has offered a similar service since last year on iOS.