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Microsoft takes Translator offline in Android, snapshot translation to iPhones

Microsoft has rolled out new features for its Translate app that make it a stronger contender against Google Translate.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on
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Microsoft's new offline translation feature employs the same AI system used in the Skype and Bing Translators, scaled down for mobile devices.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has updated its Android and iOS Translator apps with features that aim to put it on par with Google's Translate.

The updated Android Translator app released on Thursday will make it more convenient to use when you're overseas and don't want to pay for costly roaming data.

Microsoft's new offline translation feature comes thanks to its new deep neural network-powered offline translation engine, which works with downloadable language packs.

It's the same artificial-intelligence system that Microsoft has put to use in Skype Translator and Bing translator, only scaled down for mobile devices.

Separate packs are available for translation from English to Chinese Simplified, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Microsoft says in a blogpost it's working on expanding language choices and asserts that its offline translations will be almost as good as online ones. It will be up to users to decide whether Microsoft's Android app really is "significantly better than any offline translation experiences available previously".

Google Translate is the translation app to beat. It now supports 103 languages, compared with Microsoft's 52.

Google introduced offline translations with the aid of language packs in 2013 and last year rolled out live translation on the iPhone, which translates text instantaneously on a screen once it's in the camera's field of view

Google boasted last year that the feature was enabled by the same mini neural net it uses to train the machine to interpret text.

Microsoft rolled out a similar feature in an update for the iPhone yesterday, although it is slightly less sophisticated than Google's app.

The new optical character recognition engine in the iPhone app allows users to take a snap of text, on top of which the app overlays the translation.

Image translation on iOS supports Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish

For now, offline translation is available only to Android, while OCR is only on iOS. But Microsoft plans to bring each feature to both platforms in the near future.

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