Google Assistant’s language interpreter tool comes to phones

Google on Thursday said it’s bringing its an AI-powered language interpreter tool to phones. The software lets two people carry on a conversation while speaking different languages. 

Interpreter mode is coming to Google Assistant on phones. Google

The tool, called interpreter mode, will soon work on your phone with Google Assistant, the search giant’s digital helper that competes with Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Google launched the tool earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At the time, though, it was only available on smart displays and piloted in specific scenarios, like speaking to a hotel concierge.

Starting today, Google is rolling the technology out to Android phones and iPhones. Here’s how it works: Activate the Google Assistant, and say something like, “Be my Thai translator,” or “Help me speak Italian.” You speak a phrase into the phone and audio plays in the other language. Your phone’s microphone stays on between responses. You can also type a response using the phone’s keyboard or manually select when you want to speak. The feature works with 44 languages, including Greek, Turkish and Mandarin. 

The feature could be helpful for travelers. In the last few months, Google has tried to beef up its translation and maps tools to help people visiting other countries. In August, the company announced new features for Google Maps to let people pull up their travel reservations, like flight and hotel bookings, so they don’t have to leave the app while they’re navigating to a new destination.

Another new Maps tool lets people hear the correct pronunciation of places they might not know because they don’t know how to read or speak the language. The idea is to be able to say the word well enough to ask for directions or tell a taxi driver where to go. 

Google isn’t the first company to bring translation-on-the-go devices. Developers, including Dosmono and China’s Sogou, already make them. But because of the reach of Android and iOS — they’re essentially a duopoly in the global phone market — Google is taking the scale to the next level, particularly with Android phones that have the Assistant built in.

“Android’s scale is really interesting because it’s distributed in places where so many people speak multiple languages,” Vincent Lacey, a product manager for the Assistant, said when interpreter mode launched in January. “You can see that unlocks a lot of opportunities.”   

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