Microsoft Translator catches up to Google Translate with new image translation for Android

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Microsoft Translator now supports image capture translation, the company announced late Wednesday. It is the latest effort to upgrade the service as it competes for market share with Google Translate. Microsoft also announced new inline translations and language downloads for offline translations.

All you need to do is take a photo using the Microsoft Translator app, or upload a photo into the app to be translated. The initial service will be available in 21 languages and only for Android users who have Android 6.0 updated in their phone (Marshmallow). According to Ubergizmo, only 4.6% of Android users have Marshmallow, at least for now.

They will start with the big languages: English, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese. Alongside those will be Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, and Turkish.

The announcement also carries updates about inline translation, which adds a fourth option below cut, copy, and paste to translate text on a web page. Google Translate offers this service on desktop Chrome and also by Android, but the desktop version is more efficient. Microsoft’s “Translate” option will be listed under “Other Options.”

Microsoft Translator got a prominent update two weeks ago when it announced offline capabilities for iOS. This latest announcement also introduces 34 new language packs to work in Microsoft Translator’s offline mode. Those languages include: Arabic, Greek, Romanian, Bosnian, Hebrew, Russian, Bulgarian, Hindi, Serbian, Catalan, Hungarian, Slovak, Chinese Simplified, Indonesian, Slovenian, Chinese Traditional, Italian, Spanish, Croatian, Japanese, Swedish, Czech, Korean, Thai, Danish, Latvian, Turkish, Dutch, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Estonian, Malay, Urdu, Filipino, Norwegian, Vietnamese, Finnish, Persian, Welsh, French, Polish, German, and Portuguese.

Recognizing print, and not type

Google Translate added this feature some time ago after it acquired Word Lens. It remains to be seen if Microsoft Translator’s version has advantages or better accuracy than the more ubiquitous Google product. Xerox recently made headlines by adding this ability to its photocopiers: feed a document and the machine will spit back a translated version. It’s still unclear how comprehensive a translation Xerox’s machines are capable of spitting back.

Translator is competing for market share as it adds features, common languages, and tries to differentiate itself from Google’s product by adding niche tongues to its repertoire. Microsoft Translator includes Mayan and Querétaro Otomi, two languages native to the Americas which don’t fit into Google’s apparent strategy to prioritize adding the most widely-spoken languages first. Microsoft also has Klingon, while the Russian Yandex Translate added Elvish a few months ago.

Google Translate currently offers 103 languages while Microsoft Translator has 52 languages, which are also offered via Translator for Bing.

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