Language is a beautiful thing. Yet, for some, there are large barriers to speaking with natives in other countries. Google Translate has made some strides in overcoming those obstacles in recent years and has always been useful to me as I learn other languages. It's because it is more than just a simple dictionary. So the news announced today that Translate is becoming more powerful and useful with what Google calls Neural Machine Translation is exciting.
Most readers are well-aware Google assistant is going to be the big treat later this year. It will soon become a meaningful part of new apps and products like Allo and Google Home, and it will surely introduce new features and capabilities as it evolves many existing ones into something new. A teardown of the latest Google app update reveals a little more about what we can expect when the assistant comes out.
A new version of Google Maps hit the beta channel late last night, bring the version number up to v9.32.0. It looks mostly unchanged, but there is a brand new menu option in the Contribute screen that allows users to clean out locations they've never visited before. The bigger news comes from a teardown. A handful of notable new features are on the horizon, including a true cellular-free mode for navigation, real-time traffic notifications, and more. Since this is a beta release and the Google Maps team has been incredibly ambitious with new features, I expect some of the things listed in the teardown are actually live, but for many different reasons they may not appear for everyone or at all times.
Google Maps is my go-to tool for finding local businesses, but it isn't always the most transparent way to see them at a glance. For example, I'll search for a café in a major retail hub, but half the results will be from the Starbucks inside Target or the little deli inside a grocery store - not exactly what I'm looking for in a quiet meal. Things might soon get a little easier on that account: the Google Asia Pacific blog says that upcoming versions of Google Maps will list business types right in the map view... but only in Japan for now.
Knowing one language is for chumps. Oops, I might have alienated a huge portion of our readership right there. But seriously, as someone who can read, write, and fluently speak three languages, I swear by the versatility and opportunities that this kind of skill enables. I wouldn't be here on Android Police if I had stuck to my mother tongue, would I?
But there's a tax that comes with multilingualism: you often find yourself stuck on a word in one language when you just need it in another. And that's why I love multilingual dictionaries: they make it possible to quickly get the word that's been on the tip of my tongue.
Are you bilingual? And I mean bilingual in the real, fluent sense, not in the "one year of high school Spanish" sense. If so, you'll want to check out a new multi-lingual option in the Language & Input menu in Android N. This might seem counterintuitive, but consider the advantages of your phone knowing which languages you know: when taking advantage of new API settings, apps like Search can show you content in multiple languages that are relevant to you, or skip the "translate to English" message when it knows you don't need it.
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.