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Google just bought the company behind a smartphone app called Word Lens that visually translates text in real life scenarios right on your device using the camera and some behind-the-scenes intelligence.

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.

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.

We’re looking forward to continuing our work at Google – stay tuned!

The kicker? Word Lens was recently featured rather prominently in Apple’s latest iPhone ad “Powerful” and even listed on Apple’s microsite promoting the film as an app to explore.

Google, of course, offers a lot of apps on the iOS platform (36 alone if you just look at iPhone) so there’s no reason to suspect Google will remove the app from the App Store as Apple would likely do if it were to purchase the software (based on previous buys like Siri).

And it’s really a good fit for Google’s portfolio as far as acquisitions go. Word Lens even boasts support for Google Glass for translating words on the fly using visuals and its feature set somewhat resembles that of Google’s own Google Goggles app which can translate text by snapping a photo. As per their own announcement, Quest Visual, the company behind Word Lens, will work as a part of the Google Translate team.

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As for acquisition details, no price has been disclosed for the purchase but Word Lens appears to reside on the more casual side of recent mergers and acquisitions unlike Google’s $3.2 billion deal for Nest (which is still being sold by Apple). Google has confirmed the acquisition to multiple outlets.

Word Lens first debuted in 2010 and is available on the App Store as a free download with packs to unlock for additional translations. Previously, these packs were sold as in-app purchases.

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31 Responses to “Google acquires Word Lens app recently featured in Apple’s iPhone ad “Powerful””

  1. rettun1 says:

    Will make for great integration into Glass. I just hope they don’t pull support for iOS


  2. Robin A. Williams says:

    Google has been working on a lot of great things lately, I’m enjoying their hand at internet privacy.


  3. Tallest Skil says:

    What a shame. I was going to download it.

    Not now.


  4. Too bad Apple is off purchasing companies that sell overpriced headphones or else they could have bought this company before Google and incorporated actual useful features into iOS


  5. I have been using this App (Word Lens) since 2010, and it has been amazing! With the updates they have put out, it only has gotten better! This was actually a selling point for one of my fiends who was thinking of getting an Android smartphone, but as there is no Android version of the App, they steered to iPhone. I cannot tell you how many times I have used this App, and I even pass my phone around at new restaurants so that people can see what exactly it is that they are ordering on the menu, it does a really good job!


  6. I’ve had this app forever, for at least 2yrs probably 3


  7. rogodoc says:

    I keep thinking that Apple wants to promote competition, therefore they are not buying up these individual apps. However there are apps on iOS and OS X that we can all list that would be a great differentiating feature. Pixelmator, Fantastical, Smile Softwear, Acorn, Notability, etc.


  8. standardpull says:

    I bought Word Lens a while ago. It makes for a cool demo, but it isn’t very practical at all.

    So if you want to buy it, go for it. But if you are planning to actually use it, think twice. It’s performance, accuracy, and utility is quite limiting. And it isn’t like the language packs are inexpensive. And now that Google owns it, who knows if they’ll properly and promptly destroy the data and metadata the app sends them. I have my doubts – doing so seems counter to the Google profit model.


    • The app & language packs are FREE now, if you’d read the article.


    • iPadCary says:

      You could not be more wrong.
      “WordLens” is a masterwork!


    • You make it pretty obvious that you didn’t read the article.


      • standardpull says:

        I did read the article. But more importantly, I have substantial experience with the application. My conclusions regarding the usefulness of the app are quite different than the author’s conclusion. I speculate that I have considerably more real-word experience with the application than the author.

        You may have had a different experience with the app, or you may simply blindly trust the author given his track record, or you may simply believe everything you read. Or perhaps you have a financial interest. Whatever your reasons, I don’t care. Like the author, my opinions are my own.


  9. iPadCary says:

    Apple REALLY dropped the ball on this.

    I’d always thought Apple should’ve picked these guys up & incorporated
    thier insanely great work into the iOS framework.

    Now it’s too late ….


    • Oh please. You say it like it isn’t possible for anybody else to do something like this. This is just OCR, it’s hardly new. It’s well implemented in this case but it’s well within Apple’s skill set to create one just as good if they wanted to. I just don’t think they want to. It makes more sense for Google to do it given they’re an information based service.


  10. “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.”

    Translation: “We made a crapload more money in the past day than we did since we submitted the app to the App Store, so you can have it all and we’re going to bust out of here.”


  11. drtyrell969 says:

    Beats Electronics…bad idea. Word Lens….great idea.


    • There’s still no evidence they bought Beats, just some Financial Times article that speculated about it. The only time a single source for Apple related news is to be believed is if that source is Apple.

      Stop falling into the “rumour is fact” trap that all the tech media sites love to do.