Turn Your iPhone into a Real-Time Universal Translator

Last Updated Sep 21, 2011 12:34 PM EDT

In today's small, interconnected world, that universal language called Esperanto sounds better every day. Or, failing that, one of those universal translators from "Star Trek." Imagine meeting someone in a foreign country and talking to them in English, while they hear you in their native tongue with virtually no time delay. It's now a reality.

Vocre is a new iPhone app that translates spoken words among a number of languages including English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. I'm not kidding; it really does work just about as well as I'm describing. The app works fast and efficiently, relying entirely on the phone's accelerometer to know when to listen, when to translate, and when to talk.

Here's how it works: You start by turning the phone upside down, so the microphone is on top. After the beep, you talk, and the phone listens. After a moment, Vocre translates your words into on-screen text. You turn the phone sideways to read it, and if it's okay, you flip it 180 degrees the other way for the phone to speak the text aloud -- in a human-sounding voice that truly seems like a native speaker, not a flat computer voice. Then repeat the process for your partner to respond.

There have been a number of translation apps for smartphones -- you might recall I gushed over Word Lens, an augmented reality app that almost magically replaces text it seems with translated equivalents. But Vocre is poised to be a real game changer, effortlessly and seamlessly allowing you to verbally communicate with almost anyone in your respective native languages.


All that said, getting used to using Vocre can be a bit of a brian teaser. In an effort to avoid buttons and menus, the app is controlled almost entirely by tilting it this way and that as I described above. And while it's simple in principle, I wasted most of the intial free translation credits teaching myself the necessary wrist pivots before I scored a successful English-French converation. According to the company, an updated version of the app is coming within a few days that promises to be a bit simpler to manipulate.

Vocre is free, along with your first 10 translation sessions to get a feel for the way the app works. After that, you can buy more within the app (right now, it's 20 for a dollar). Let's be clear: If you travel or do international business, download Vocre today. It's the future.

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