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Word Lens: How Future Hardware Will Enable Mobile Apps

If I had to choose one of the most innovative mobile apps of late, Word Lens would be atop the list. Using the camera of an Apple iOS (s aapl) device, Word Lens can translate a foreign language in near real time and without a data connection: two big advantages over Google Goggles (s goog) and other similar solutions. Clearly people agree, because Otavio Good, the co-founder of Quest Visual, which built the software, made back his 2.5 years of effort on the app in just a few days, due to high sales in Apple’s iTunes Store. Word Lens itself is free, but a single-direction language dictionary costs $9.99.

We don’t often get into the nuts and bolts of mobile apps here, but I just watched Robert Scoble’s interview with Good, and thought it interesting enough to share. Why? Because it illustrates not just what can be done with today’s smartphones but shows the potential of future apps in the next hardware cycle of handsets.

Good describes the actual process of how the software works, giving insights into what today’s mobile devices are capable of as well as where they’re constrained. Considering that Word Lens is intensive for both the processor and graphics systems, I can’t wait to see what he and other innovative developers can do with the dual-core processors coming soon to many smartphones in 2011. And we’ve already seen what beefy graphics chip can bring too: the latest handsets shown at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show fit in a pocket, but can pipe 1080p video content to a high-definition set like a portable set-top box.

Back to software for a second: In the case of an application like Word Lens, I have to agree with Scoble that certain apps just seem magical. And while we can all do so much more with our smartphones than we could a year ago, I expect plenty more magic to appear in the coming months in all the app stores, not just Apple’s. As hardware matures, application developers will face fewer processing challenges, making the smartphone even smarter for us all.

Photo courtesy of Robert Scoble

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3 Responses to “Word Lens: How Future Hardware Will Enable Mobile Apps”

  1. I don’t buy it. Not saying that more powerful hardware doesn’t help convince developers to take chances, but saying that it’s needed for them to do so, I don’t buy it.

    Word Lens is a direct copy of the Camera Dictionary (Japanese name escapes me at the moment) app that was released in 2006. And that was done on hardware matching what’s on many feature phones today. I don’t see the causation in Word Lens and more powerful hardware for that fact alone.

    Now, are certain platforms a bit more friendly, and mobile environments a bit more ripened for this kind of work to be done now? Sure. The tech world is literally catching up to the kind of mobile possibilities our friends in Japan, SK, etc. have been doing for a half decade plus. But, to put the onus on hardware, and Ignore the other factors, even for that developer, seems a bit like calling Columbus the discoverer of the Americas (a noble gesture, but totally missing those that went ahead and provided him a map to the kind of markets he did discover here).