By Henry Williams.
Can’t tell your 雞脚 from your 叉燒包? US software developers have created an iPhone app that delivers real-time translation of restaurant menus written in Chinese, no data connection required.
Waigo, available for free in Apple’s app store, has been around since early March, but has begun getting a lot of attention in the last few days.
The team behind the app, TranslateAbroad, is receiving funding from 500 Startups, a seed-fund designed to help “early-stage companies with up to US$250k [of] funding”.
TranslateAbroad’s CEO, Ryan Rogowski, had the idea while he was working on apps in China:
At first the idea was somewhat educational. Eventually it grew in Ryan’s head that this could be used for any traveler in any country. We decided to focus on China and the East Asian market first because that’s where our team had the most experience and it was also the most difficult batch of languages to solve and we wanted a challenge.
Shanghaiist took the app out for a spin at a sushi bar in Hong Kong, with pretty impressive results:
The app was clearly capable of much more, as it correctly recognised the [non-food] text on this sign but failed to translate it (presumably the capability to translate other categories of text will come in the form of paid add-ons):
While Waigo certainly isn’t the first app to accomplish real-time optical character recognition, they certainly are doing it for the best price.
The company say that while future versions will include new “cool features”, the free version will only provide a limited number of translations. Upgrades will be available on a weekly or unlimited basis.
We also hope version 2 will provide a connection to Google Translate for non-food items. The app did crash more than once – hopefully this will be fixed too.