Monday, April 8, 2013

Translation-based Smartphone Apps: What’s The Score? (Part 1 of 2)

Already for some time, with the rise in popularity of the iPhone and other smartphones, there has also been an increase in the number of translation- and language-related applications as well. How – if at all – do these apps affect the translator and his work? I have no idea. So I decided to do a bit of investigative reporting.

As an iPhone owner and translator, I was admittedly a bit worried when confronted with the fact that there was yet ANOTHER thing which may in some way threaten the future of my career/industry/source of income. But then I remembered The Process: this sort of thing pops up pretty much every week, and I write an article about how it will or won’t destroy the translation profession, and then a few days later I forget all about it and nothing whatsoever changes, then I find a new thing to write about.

So I’m going to break this article into two parts: Part 1 – this one – will consist of my completely uninformed opinion regarding smartphone translation apps, without ever having used one nor done research on them, and my predictions as to how they will affect me/my job/your job/the fate of the planet.

Part 2 – not this one – will be written in a few days, after I’ve actually downloaded and experimented with some of these apps, done a bit of research on the subject, and am actually able to formulate an informed opinion on the matter. I will then compare and contrast my uninformed predictions with my newly informed predictions, and see how spot-on – or shamefully off – I was.

So, here’s what I think:

Not much at all.

I don’t mean that as in “I don’t care enough to think about it”. I mean it as in “I really don’t think these apps are going to make much difference/cause many problems as far as translators go at all”. We’ve had Internet-based dictionaries/translation engines, electronic dictionaries/translators, and cell phone-based dictionaries/translators around for years now, and while all of those put together have certainly encouraged some changes – both positive and negative – in the translation industry, I don’t believe that the addition of the same exact product on a slightly different medium is going to have much of an effect on anything at all.

This sentiment is especially applicable if these smartphone translators are anything like the handheld electronic translators I’ve used in the past. I’ve owned a couple of them, and although it was admittedly several years ago, they were basically garbage. Expensive dictionaries that required batteries – that’s about it.

I’m assuming that these smartphone apps are probably closer to the normal PC/Internet-based translation programs/dictionaries out there, though, which means basically the same thing: nothing much will change. This is due to the fact that we already have all of this stuff, and in much more easy-to-use formats; although an iPhone is obviously more portable and less space-eating than an entire PC, it’s much easier to type up long sentences and paragraphs on a proper PC keyboard, as opposed to the tiny, touch-sensitive imaginary keys on a smartphone.

So basically, my hypothesis is this: these apps are probably going to be less than impressive, and will likely have no effect whatsoever on our work as translators. Now, for the actual research to commence...

I’m going to download and try out several of these apps on my iPhone now, and Part 2 of this article should be up in a day or two. How right are my predictions? Will I be proven completely wrong, and be regrettably forced to not only apologize, but also to warn you all that “THEY’RE TAKIN’ OUR JOBS!”?

I doubt it. But we’ll see...

To Be Continued...