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When you think about language translation, it’s hard not to turn to Google Translate immediately. But, despite years of development and technology acquisition, it still has challenges.

For example, what happens when you don’t have an internet connection in an unfamiliar country, and you didn’t download the language in advance? And the method for translating text from images is clunky and slow.

Today, ABBYY — a content intelligence solutions and services company — has announced a significant update to TextGrabber for iOS in an attempt to provide a suitable alternative to Google Translate.

The key feature is a new real-time translation function that uses the smartphone camera to capture and translate text instantly. Importantly, it works offline as well as online.


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ABBYY’s recognition technology translates text of any color on any background. And unlike other similar apps, it does not require users to download languages to translate offline. I’ve seen it in action, and the translation really is instant, both online and off.

The revamped TextGrabber captures text in 61 languages and translates it in real time to 104 languages online and ten languages offline. It builds on the technology ABBYY released in November 2017.

Offline translation works for 10 common languages including English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, and Japanese.

ABBYY has also announced that TextGrabber for iOS is now free to download. After the first three complimentary full-feature uses, users can retain access to the full functionality of the app for a subscription fee. The cost is 50 cents a month for the first two months and $2 a month after that.

“With this change, our goal was to make the app accessible to a wider audience,” Bruce Orcutt, vice president and head of product marketing at ABBYY, told me. “We would like for more people to try TextGrabber and see how it can make their life easier. Today, a lot of services are subscription-based, so a majority of users are familiar and comfortable with it.”

The app helps to digitize books, magazines, manuals, screens, menus, posters, and street signs. Text recognition is performed wholly on the device. The captured text can be copied, edited, shared, translated, or read aloud via VoiceOver.

All links, phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, and event details become clickable for the user to perform the corresponding task easily (follow, call, email, find on maps, or add to the calendar). Additionally, TextGrabber also works as a QR code reader. All digitized texts and QR codes are saved in the app for later access.

TextGrabber also serves the needs of people with disabilities, who can use it to capture, translate, and voice virtually any text from print, computer, or TV screen.

So what’s next for ABBYY and TextGrabber?

“Our roadmap is focused on helping developers create better user experiences by enabling the camera of a mobile device to expose text and content hidden in documents, labels, badges, and on screens, to expose meaningful data,” Orcutt said. “We see use cases where people can leverage their phones as a primary interface to systems and processes. This capability dramatically reduces friction and makes the onboarding user experience easier and more aligned with mobility. We work with developers of mobile apps who are looking to improve the user experience and are focused on innovative ways to get data from customers and users without forcing them to type it all manually.”

That includes further enhancing the use of AI to ensure translations are as quick and accurate as possible.

“We are using neural networks and NLP not only to ‘grab’ text but to understand it and extract meaningful data from it quickly and on the device,” Orcutt said. “For example, in the future, you might be able to scan a contract and instantly identify potential risks and questionable points or upload a printed blood test result to a medical system on the go.”

ABBYY’s new TextGrabber is available from today for iOS devices.

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