August was light on new Android apps, but there's one new arrival that might change things in a big way: Amazon Underground. Aside from that, Google's new push towards streaming games and a new translator service from Microsoft make up the more interesting apps from the big publishers. That said, there are a few indie gems in both our primary lineup and the Honorable Mentions sections, so check them out below.
Microsoft's Translator isn't the first service to attempt to confront Google in the translation game, but it may be one of the first to pose a real challenge to Google Translate. Out of the gate, the app has an Android Wear component, a sorely missed feature in its competitor, and even though Translator does seem quite simplistic and limited, it has most of the basic features covered to warrant a more thorough comparison against Translate.
A different approach
While many of Microsoft's recent apps have adopted Material Design in their interface, Translator is more subtle about it. Both the welcome and the translation screens' blurry background and iconography are modern but not exactly Material.
Microsoft continues to branch out to other platforms beyond its own Windows ecosystem. The latest app from Redmond to land on Android is Microsoft Translator. Not only can you talk to the phone to get translations, it has support for Android Wear as well.
Language barriers might be a bit less insurmountable later this year when Microsoft releases the first beta of Skype Translator. As demoed last night at the Code Conference, Redmond is close to implementing near real-time voice translation of multiple languages in a Skype call. We might be getting close the the fabled babel fish.
What the heck does that say? Is it even a language? Inapp Translator might be able to tell you what's up, and you won't even have to hop back and forth between apps. Once activated, Inapp Translator places a floating button on the screen that can pull up instant translations of the text in your clipboard.
Those of you lucky enough to be visiting Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics might not have opulent luxuries like floors or potable water, but at least getting around town will be a little easier thanks to the Word Lens app. The developers added support for Russian today, allowing users to translate signs, menus, and other text on the fly.
If you've never used Word Lens, then you really should, at least if you're frequently traveling to places that don't speak your native language. The app uses augmented reality to translate text from one language to another, then re-insert it into the live image from your phone's camera.
Wondering what that sign says, but you don't speak the lingo? You might want to figure it out – signs convey important information. Maybe it says "keep off the grass," but it could also say "high risk of electric shock." Word Lens can help with that by doing live translation of text using optical character recognition and the camera. It's neat, and the newest version adds support for tablets.
Word Lens is the kind of app that might not get daily use, but when you do fire it up, it can save your bacon with fast offline translations. This is not just any translation app, though. Word Lens uses your device's camera to overlay the text translation using optical character recognition. Well, this app just got a nice little update to version 2.1 with some new features.
Word Lens now supports Portuguese ⇄ English translations, but it's not included with the app. Word Lens has a slightly confusing payment system. The $4.99 paid version comes with one language pack of your choice.
Between Hangouts, the gorgeous new Maps, Play Music All Access, and everything else discussed in I/O's opening keynote this morning, several revisions to the Play Store developer's console were announced.
Perhaps the most interesting addition to the console will be an organized method for alpha and beta testing, and staged rollouts. Basically, developers can select alpha and beta testers, receiving all feedback directly (instead of through reviews) and, when the time comes, roll out the app to certain percentages of the user base.
The changes also include a major help in ensuring your apps make sense to international users – a full translation service by which developers can order specific translations, come back a week or so later, and download the translations directly from the console.
Google Translate has always been one of the unsung heroes of the free service space. On the one hand, it doesn't provide a perfect translation, so people are still hesitant to call it a true breakthrough. On the other hand, we use it all the time to translate web pages enough to get the gist and, when combined with speech-to-text and text-to-speech, you can use the Android app as the closest thing to a universal translator in your pocket the world has ever seen. Now, it's getting even better with offline language packs.
Starting today, you can download any of the 51 language packs available and have always-on access to translation between any combination of the ones you've chosen.