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NTT Docomo unveils call translator app for Android

Japan’s largest mobile network, NTT Docomo, has introduced a new translation app for Android at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC). Intended to launch on 1 November, the mobile application called Hanashite Hon’yaku translates Japanese and other languages (currently English, Chinese and Korean) into the receiver's native tongue allowing for multilingual conversations. It also enables face-to-face translation in which two people share a smartphone.

The free-to-download app requires its users to pay for translation data and call charges. The translations are provided as both voice readouts and on-screen text, with live face-to-face translation only incurring a data charge.

(opens in new tab)The application runs on tablets and smartphones that have Android 2.2 or higher installed.

NTT Docomo indicated that further languages would be added to the service in late November; namely French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

According to a report by the BBC (opens in new tab), the fidelity of the translations is not perfect as the software has problems processing certain dialects.

The BBC also reported on various competitors that are set to offer similar services, such as French company Alcatel-Lucent’s WeTalk. This product is expected to handle more languages (around a dozen), which will include Arabic, and will run on landlines rather than mobiles.

"You can do conversations with one person, but we want to allow conferences with 10 people and four different languages, and the system would provide translations in every language needed,” said Alcatel-Lucent's Gilles Gerlinger in a statement to the BBC. "We also have a project called MyVoice which can have a synthetic voice that sounds like your real one."

With the translation industry estimated to gross $14 billion (£8.7 billion) per fiscal year, the presence of technological alternatives to multilingual hires is likely to continue growing.