When I lived in Japan, I had one of those little pocket talking electronic dictionaries. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve traveled in Asia, or maybe if you’ve just met Asian tourists. They’re really popular in Japan, and most keitai (cell phones) also come with them pre-installed.
Most, that is, except for the iPhone, which actually lacks many of the features Japanese customers have come to expect from their cell phones. Japanese cell phone service provider SoftBank, currently the exclusive provider of the iPhone in Japan, took matters into its own hands and developed the Speeek! series of applications to correct this.
They’ve now extended the line of Speeek! products available, and the new additions to the line will appeal to English-speaking iPhone users looking to travel abroad. New versions of the software just introduced include an English-to-Japanese and English-to-Chinese version, both of which will cost you $21.99. That seems like a lot when you consider it in the context of App Store pricing, but if you compare it to the $200 I spent on my little talking electronic dictionary, it’s not a bad deal at all.
The app makes things as simple as direct-from-speech translation can be at this point. You choose a context from a list of eight, including “Restaurants” and “Sightseeing,” then you say the phrase you want to translate into the iPhone. You then choose the closest answer from its list of suggestions, and it provides the translated phrase. You can also have it say the phrase, if you’re not comfortable just pointing to the screen. The person you’re talking to can then select from a number of anticipated possible answers if there’s no other way for them to convey their meaning. Also, you get to interact with the creepy anthropomorphic cartoon cat that wants you to touch it, pictured above.
It’s no Babelfish, but it is definitely something I wish I had when I was in Japan. I once thought a man working at the Japanese equivalent of Home Depot was going to cry because he couldn’t understand what I was looking for, which was a computer chair.