Today on its website, Quest Visual announced that it has been acquired by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) for an undisclosed sum. The company is best known for making Word Lens, a mobile app that translates text viewed through your phone’s camera in real time. The employees of Quest Visual, and the Word Lens technology, will be brought into the fold with the team working on Google Translate.
The Word Lens app, which came out in 2010, works like this: Let’s say you’re in a restaurant in another country and you don’t speak the language, so you can’t read the menu. All you have to do is open the app and aim your device’s camera at a menu, and in real time the app makes it look like the menu is written in English. The technology seems pretty futuristic. And since Google is one of the companies doing the most to bring about a futuristic world with its software and gadgets, the acquisition seems like an smart choice for the Internet giant.
The acquisition seems especially smart when you consider that Google is still working to enhance Google Glass, the computer device that sits on eyewear and displays information on your lens as you go about your day. In fact, the app Word Lens is already available on Glass, as well as on Android and iOS.
In the announcement, Quest Visual writes, “With Word Lens, we’ve seen the beginnings of what’s possible when we harness the power of mobile devices to ‘see the world in your language.’ By joining Google, we can incorporate Quest Visual’s technology into Google Translate’s broad language coverage and translation capabilities in the future.”
Google has confirmed the acquisition in an email to TechCrunch, saying that Quest Visual’s talent and app technology display “a strength that led Google to deem them a good fit for its Translate team.”
It’s not clear whether Google will remove the Word Lens app for sale from the various app stores, as sometimes happens after acquisitions like this. However, Quest Visual’s website says, “As a thank you to everybody who supported us on our journey, we’ve made both the app and the language packs free to download for a limited time while we transition to Google.”
The Word Lens app itself has always been free, but Quest Visual previously charged money through in-app purchase for the individual language packs. Now, for a limited time at least, the language packs are free. You can download the app here for Android, here for iOS, and here for Google Glass.
Google already has a similar — but more limited — feature in its Google Goggles app, which lets you take a picture of text, and then the app translates it to your preferred language. Word Lens, on the other hand, works in real time, without the need for you to take a picture. It also works offline, which is good for people traveling without cell service. But because the app does its translations on a word-by-word basis, it works best on large signs and menus, and not so well on pages that are dense with words.
In any case, if you plan to travel to a country where you don’t speak the language, now would be a good time to grab the app and download the language packs. You never know what will happen to the app once the company has been absorbed into Google Translate.