Google Translate, which has successfully swept away its predecessors and competitors to become the standard in online translation, has a new feature: handwriting translation. Its a feature thats actually been available on their Android app for almost two years, but finally its coming to the website version as well.
Distinct from the translator in Google Goggles, which can be foiled by everything from distance to fancy fonts, this lets you turn written characters into digital with remarkable speed.
The idea is only really necessary for languages with non-Latin characters that cant be accessed through a standard keyboard. The feature currently supports 45 languages, most importantly the Asian languages, but it could be useful for other languages if you simply must see the meaning of a particularly arcane accented letter.
Select, for instance, Chinese as your starting language. At the bottom left of the input box will be a drop-down menu containing a number of options. Choose Chinese Handwrite to bring up the whiteboard and get started.
Each time you draw a line on the whiteboard, Googles parsimony algorithm suggests the character it thinks youre most likely attempting to draw. Often you only have to draw half of a symbol to see it suggested, and a single click will add it to your message for translation. However, if you want to draw every stroke you can also draw out multiple symbols in a single whiteboard frame and add them as a group. At that point, though, youre increasing your chances of a problem in guessing. Since theres currently no way to erase as single line, only the whole whiteboard, its better to draw out each character individually.
If youve got a flyer and want to know what its advertising, or a ticket and want to know its details, this could be an absolute life-saver. The smartphone app will likely be more useful when walking the streets of a foreign country, where youre unlikely to have WiFi access or the will to pull out your laptop. However, this adds versatility to Google Translate and removes unnecessary divergence in function between the app and its web-based parent.
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