Friday, April 12, 2013

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

Awhile back, I mentioned how I had downloaded and tested out a few translation-related apps for the iPhone. This article will serve as a sort of basic review of those apps, and hopefully will also shed some light on the "How will these affect the industry?" subject.

Today, I'd like to review two particular (free) apps: the Infoseek-based "Japanese Translation (Lite)" app; and the wwwJDic (Japanese-English dictionary) app, based on the well-known wwwJDic website by Jim Breen of Monash University. As both of these apps are Japanese/English*-specific, these reviews may not come in extremely handy to translators dealing with other languages, but hopefully they can at least help give you a general idea of the kinds of translation-related apps that are currently out there, as I'd assume that iPhone/smartphone apps particular to other languages probably won't be that far off.

*(The Japanese Translation (Lite) app is actually Japanese-English/Chinese/Portuguese/Korean/French/German/Italian/Spanish, whereas the wwwJDic app is strictly Japanese-English.)

App #1: wwwJDic (Japanese-English dictionary)

The Basics

This app is basically an iPhone-ported version of the popular Japanese-English dictionary website of the same name. Since the dictionary used on the website is arguably one of the best online J-E dictionaries around, this should have been a nifty little app which could be used in a translation pinch or in times when you just can't think of/don't know a particular word and are nowhere near a computer.

Unfortunately, the app does not contain the actual dictionary database - rather, it connects you via the Internet to the website's database - so it's not always exactly lightning quick. In fact, I'm sad to say that about 5-7 out of 10 times I try to translate a word, I get an error message. As far as I can tell, either a LOT of people use this app, thus creating an unbearable load for the servers, or the app was just poorly designed on the tech side. Either way, it's a bit disappointing. (Judging by the App Store comments from other users who purchased this app, I'm not the only one having this problem.)

On the plus side, though, when I am actually able to fully utilize the dictionary, it's pretty much just as good as it's parent version. If only they could do something to fix the stability issues or else somehow include the entire database in the app itself, this would make for a really handy pocket dictionary.

Buy or Don\'t Buy?

Well, it's free, and when it does work it's quite useful, so if you're a Japanese-English translator with an iPhone then why not?

How it will Affect the Industry

Honestly, I'd have to say that this particular app should have virtually no effect on our industry and the way we do our jobs. This has nothing to do with the quality of the app - it's just nothing new or revolutionary.

App #2: Japanese Translation (Lite) (Infoseek-based text translation program)

The Basics

The Japanese Translation ("日本語翻訳LITE") app is - while not nearly as exact or concise as the previously-mentioned wwwJDic dictionary - a relatively useful little app. Put simply, it's an iPhone version of Google Translator or Babelfish, except you can only translate from Japanese into English, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, French, German, Italian or Spanish, or vice versa, but not exclusively between any of the non-Japanese languages listed. Both single words and whole phrases/blocks of text can be translated.

Overall, this app is OK. I did have some minor issues with it, however. For example, the translation screen consists of two empty spaces, one on top of the other (top = your entered word/phrase, bottom = the translation), with a "Translate" button in between. Theoretically this is perfect, as it's simple, easy to use, and all you really need. Unfortunately, when you attempt to input text to be translated, the pop-up iPhone keyboard tends to get in the way of the Translate button, and according to some of the comments at the App Store, can almost completely obscure the button depending on the languages for which your iPhone is set to display keyboards.

My other issue was with accuracy. Word-to-word translations were generally OK, but like Google Translator (in most cases), you only get one possible translation per word. This means that, for example, were you to try to translate the word "lead" from English into Japanese, you may get the definition for the noun (the metal) or you might get the verb (to lead a battalion, etc.). For someone who has little to no understanding of the language into which they're translating, this can be quite problematic.

Buy or Don't Buy?

This app is also free (there is also a pay version with several extra features, which escape me at the moment), and it isn't by any definition a "garbage app", so if you think you may have a use for it, then go for it.

How it will Affect the Industry

Again, I doubt this will have any significant effect on our industry or how we do our jobs. As with the wwwJDic app, dictionary/translator apps and programs exactly like this have been around on regular cell phones (not to mention the Internet) for years, so I really don’t see this particular one upturning the translation world anytime soon.

Next week, I'll review a couple more of the smartphone apps I've been testing out. This time I'll try to focus on more broad-scale apps (i.e.: not only Japanese-based apps).

Anyone know of any good, helpful apps relating to translation or interpretation? On the other hand, know of any horrible ones that should be avoided at all costs? Let us know in the Forums.