One of the things that breaks my immersion when watching sci-fi shows is when everyone speaks the same language, from people of different nationalities to aliens (not to mention the dog and pig people in Dragonball). But many sci-fi franchises also address this real world convenience with a fictional explanation – the “universal translator.” A new app called Vocre (pronounced vo-cray) is trying to turn iOS devices into this mythical device.
A company called myLanguage made Vocre using their own technology, as well as magical bits from voice recognition company Nuance. Like most iOS apps, using Vocre is simple. Or at least it’s supposed to be simple – first, select the language and gender of the person you’re talking to. Then, while your iOS device is vertical, speak into the phone. Finally, tilt your device into a horizontal position to cue Vocre to translate what you just said, both verbally and orally.
Vocre is currently available on the iTunes App Store and can handle English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Mandarin. It seems like a great idea, one fit to be in a United Colors of Benetton commercial, but right now it has a couple of major drawbacks. First is the flip to translate gimmick, which is the only way to order Vocre to translate what’s been said. The problem is, reviews on the iTunes App Store have said that it’s faulty and doesn’t work all the time. Besides, I think it’s a totally unnecessary feature. What’s wrong with a virtual button? Or, if we insist on being flashy, why not have the speaker say a magic word at the end of his message to cue the app to translate instead?
This faultiness may be forgiven since it’s in its only been released recently, but the problem is compounded by myLanguage’s current pricing scheme – you get 10 free translations when you download the app, after which you’ll have to pay $0.99 (USD) per 10 translations, or $8.99 for 100 translations. You can see why that’s a disaster right? The wonky activation can lead to inadvertent translations, and each time that happens means that’s 10 cents gone. Hopefully myLanguage can improve the app and come up with a more forgiving pricing scheme. And add a Klingon language pack for kicks.