Word Lens
Original author(s)Otavio Good
Developer(s)Otavio Good, John DeWeese, Maia Good, Bryan Lin, Eric Park
Initial releaseDecember 16, 2010 (2010-12-16)
Final release
2.2.3 / April 18, 2014; 10 years ago (2014-04-18)
Written inC++, Objective-C, C#, ARM Assembly, Java
Operating systemApple iOS 6.1+, Android 2.3.3+
PlatformiPhone 3GS+, iPod Touch 4+, iPad 2+, Android phones, Google Glass
Size43.3 MB
Available inEnglish ↔ Spanish,
English ↔ French,
English ↔ Italian,
English ↔ German,
English ↔ Portuguese,
English ↔ Russian
TypeTranslation software

Word Lens was an augmented reality translation application from Quest Visual.[1] Word Lens used the built-in cameras on smartphones and similar devices to quickly scan and identify foreign text (such as that found in a sign or a menu), and then translated and displayed the words in another language on the device's display. The words were displayed in the original context on the original background, and the translation was performed in real-time without a connection to the internet. For example, using the viewfinder of a camera to show a shop sign on a smartphone's display would result in a real-time image of the shop sign being displayed, but the words shown on the sign would be the translated words instead of the original foreign words.

Until early 2015, the application was available for the Apple's iPhone, iPod, and iPad,[2] as well as for a selection of Android smartphones.[3] The application was free on Apple's iTunes, but an in-app purchase was necessary to enable translation capabilities.[2] On Google Play, there were both the free demo and the full translation-enabled versions of the application.[3] At Google's unveiling of its Glass Development Kit in November 2013, translation capabilities of Word Lens were also demonstrated on Google Glass.[4][5][6][7] According to the January 2014 New York Times article, Word Lens was free for Google Glass.[8]

Google acquired Quest Visual on May 16, 2014 in order to incorporate Word Lens into its Google Translate service.[9][10][11] As a result, all Word Lens language packs were available free of charge until January 2015.[10][11][12][13][14] The details of the acquisition have not been released.[9][10][11][12] Word Lens feature was incorporated into the Google Translate app and released on January 14, 2015.[15][16][17][18]


Screenshot from the official Word Lens demo by Quest Visual, Inc.

Word Lens is an augmented reality application that recognizes printed words using its optical character recognition capabilities and instantly translates these words into the desired language.[2][3] This application does not require connection to the internet. In its default mode, Word Lens performs real-time translation, but can be paused to display a single frame or to look up alternative translations of each specific word in that frame. It is also possible to use the built-in dictionary to manually type in words that need to be translated.

Word Lens 1.0 was released on December 16, 2010,[19] and received significant amount of attention soon after,[20][21][22][23][24][25][26] including Wired,[27] The Economist,[28] CNN,[29][30] the New York Times,[31][32] Forbes,[33] the Wall Street Journal,[34] MIT Technology Review,[35] and ~2.5 million views on YouTube in the first 6 days.[33] Since the application held a No. 1 position on the lists of Top Free Apps and Top Grossing Apps on iTunes for the few days following its release, it is currently described as Top In App Purchases.[2] In 2014, Word Lens was featured in the Apple ad for iPhone 5S Powerful.[10][11] This application is currently available as Word Lens 2.2.3.[2][3]

Supported devices

Word Lens requires iPhone 3GS+, iPod Touch with a video camera, iPad 2+, or any iPad Mini .[2][25] In 2012, Word Lens was released for a selection of Android smartphones.[3] In 2013, Word Lens became available for Google Glass,[5][7] even though Google Glass itself is not yet freely available.[8]

Supported languages

At the release, only English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English were supported, but other language dictionaries were planned,[30] with European languages expected first.[22] English-to-French and French-to-English were released on December 14, 2011.[36][37] In 2012, English-to-Italian and Italian-to-English were added, followed by English-to-German / German-to-English and English-to-Portuguese / Portuguese-to-English in 2013, and English-to-Russian / Russian-to-English in 2014.

Since the acquisition by Google in May 2014, all previously released language packs can be downloaded for free.[9][10][11][12][13] It was also speculated that through incorporation into Google Translate, Word Lens would be extended to "broad language coverage and translation capabilities in the future".[38]


According to its description, Word Lens is best used on clearly printed text and was not designed to translate handwritten or stylized fonts. This application was created to help tourists understand signs and menus, and it is not 100% accurate. The developer Otavio Good commented: "I will be the first to say that it’s not perfect, but perfect was not the goal". However, testers who took the app to other countries said it had been useful.[33] Further, even though the application was not designed to read books, the Wall Street Journal journalist Ben Rooney managed to understand a page from Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban.[34]


Example of a French-to-English translation by Word Lens

Word Lens was developed by Otavio Good, a former video game developer and the founder of Quest Visual,[1][19][30][33] John DeWeese, who previously worked on the Electronic Arts game Spore,[19][30][33] and programmers Maia Good,[33] Bryan Lin and Eric Park. A U.S. patent application on the technology was filed by the company in 2010 (based on a year-earlier provisional patent application), naming Good as inventor, but went abandoned for failure to respond to a Patent Office action. The application was published as US20110090253.


The Google Goggles application for Android and iPhone has the capability to translate text or identify objects in an image, but it requires users to take a picture with their phones, and an active internet connection. Word Lens does it on the fly, meaning it's interpreting frames in video, almost in real time. A similar app called LookTel, designed to help blind people, scans print on objects such as packages of food and reads them aloud."[30]


Articles in the Wall Street Journal and Tom's Guide cited Clarke's third law describing Word Lens: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".[23][34]

The New York Times journalist David Pogue included Word Lens in his list of "the best tech ideas of the year" 2010 (10 ideas total).[32]

In the Wall Street Journal article by Ben Rooney, Word Lens received a rating of 4/5 and was described as "a sort of magic".[34]

Word Lens was chosen as a finalist for the 2010 Crunchies Best Technology Achievement award.

Ellen of The Ellen DeGeneres Show demoed Word Lens and referred to it as "amazing" in her segment Ellen Found the Best Apps!

Otavio Good won the 2012 Netexplo award in the category Innovation & Technology presented at the UNESCO headquarters for the creation of Word Lens.[39]

The New York Times App Smart columnist Kit Eaton included Word Lens into his list of favorite apps.[40]

History of updates

Program Features
Version Release Date Size New Languages New Devices New Features
Word Lens 1.0 December 16, 2010 3.6 MB English ↔ Spanish iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod Touch (4th generation) Snapshot or real-time video translation in color
Word Lens 1.0.1 March 22, 2011 3.9 MB None iPad 2 Wi-Fi, iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G Localized user content
Word Lens 1.1 December 14, 2011 13.8 MB English ↔ French iPhone 4S Improved OCR and accuracy of translation
Word Lens 1.2 July 5, 2012 18.0 MB English ↔ Italian Android phones, iPad 3 Wi-Fi, iPad 3 Wi-Fi + 4G Faster translation, improved user interface and program stability, retina display support for iPad 3
Word Lens 1.2.1 July 22, 2012 18.0 MB None None Fixed crash for customers using iPad in French
Word Lens 1.2.2 September 20, 2012 19.4 MB None iPhone 5 None
Word Lens 1.2.3 November 21, 2012 19.5 MB None iPad 4 Wi-Fi, iPad 4 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad Mini Wi-Fi, iPad Mini Wi-Fi + Cellular Tutorials for new users, improvements in the "reverse words" demo mode
Word Lens 1.2.4 November 27, 2012 19.5 MB None None Improvements for British users
Word Lens 1.2.5 November 28, 2012 19.5 MB None None "Dark screen" fixes
Word Lens 2.0 February 20, 2013 31.4 MB English ↔ German None Motion tracking to reduce flicker, bug fixes
Word Lens 2.0.1 February 27, 2013 31.4 MB None None Bug fixes
Word Lens 2.1 May 29, 2013 36.6 MB English ↔ Portuguese None Ability to take screenshots of translations and share those online
Word Lens 2.1.1 June 11, 2013 36.6 MB None None Bug fixes
Word Lens 2.1.2 October 2, 2013 35.5 MB None iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPad Air Wi-Fi, iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad 2 Mini Wi-Fi, iPad 2 Mini Wi-Fi + Cellular Improved user interface for iOS7, ability to restore purchased languages
Word Lens Unknown November 19, 2013 Unknown None Google Glass User command “Okay Glass, translate this” activates Word Lens
Word Lens 2.2 February 7, 2014 43.2 MB English ↔ Russian None None
Word Lens 2.2.1 March 3, 2014 43.2 MB None None Dictionary lookup fix for Russian demo
Word Lens 2.2.2 April 8, 2014 43.2 MB None None Documentation update
Word Lens 2.2.3 April 18, 2014 43.3 MB None None Translation improvements

Table updated on April 23, 2014 based on refs.[2][3][4]

See also


  1. ^ a b Armstrong, Natalie (April 19, 2011). "Word Lens app developer builds on social media buzz". Reuters.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Word Lens on the iTunes App Store". itunes.apple.com. 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Word Lens on the Google Play Store". 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Gannes, Liz (November 19, 2013). "Next Google Glass Tricks Include Translating the World From Your Eyes". All Things Digital.
  5. ^ a b Honan, Mat (November 19, 2013). "Google's New Tools Show How Deep Glass Will Embed in Our Lives". Wired: Gadget Lab.
  6. ^ Rosenblatt, Seth (November 19, 2013). "Google Glass throws open its doors to developers". CNET.
  7. ^ a b Lardinois, Frederic (November 24, 2013). "Glass Just Got Way More Interesting". TechCrunch.
  8. ^ a b Rosenbloom, Stephanie (January 23, 2014). "Google Tools for Globetrotters". The New York Times: Travel.
  9. ^ a b c Etherington, Darrell (May 16, 2014). "Google Has Acquired Quest Visual, The Maker Of Camera-Based Translation App Word Lens". TechCrunch.
  10. ^ a b c d e Rosenblatt, Seth (May 16, 2014). "Google buys Word Lens maker to boost Translate". CNET.
  11. ^ a b c d e Hall, Zac (May 16, 2014). "Google acquires Word Lens app recently featured in Apple's iPhone ad "Powerful"". 9to5Mac.
  12. ^ a b c Winkler, Rolfe (May 16, 2014). "Google Tries Another Reality With Quest Visual Purchase". The Wall Street Journal.
  13. ^ a b Tschorn, Adam (May 22, 2014). "Say what? Word Lens translation app is easy and free (for now)". Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ "Quest Visual is joining Google!". questvisual.com. 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  15. ^ Turovsky, Barak (January 14, 2015). "Hallo, hola, olá to the new, more powerful Google Translate app". Google: Official Blog. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
  16. ^ Dougherty, Conor (January 14, 2015). "Google Translate App Gets an Upgrade". The New York Times: Bits. Retrieved January 17, 2015.
  17. ^ Rosenbloom, Stephanie (January 14, 2015). "Updates for Google Translate (Just Hold Up Your Phone)". The New York Times: In Transit. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  18. ^ Ulanoff, Lance (January 15, 2015). "Hands on with Google Translate: A mix of awesome and OK". Mashable. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  19. ^ a b c Tsotsis, Alexia (December 16, 2010). "Word Lens Translates Words Inside of Images. Yes Really". TechCrunch.
  20. ^ Hennigan, W.J. (December 17, 2010). "Word Lens enables iPhone users to instantly translate Spanish to English". Los Angeles Times: Business/Technology.
  21. ^ Broida, Rick (December 17, 2010). "Word Lens for iPhone translates Spanish to English—in real time!". CNET.
  22. ^ a b Darren, Allan (December 19, 2010). "Word Lens translation app planned for Android and more". Tech Watch.
  23. ^ a b Yam, Marcus (December 19, 2010). "Word Lens App is Like a Magical Visual Babel Fish". Tom's Guide: Software.
  24. ^ "Word Lens instant translation app launching on Android, plus global languages". Expert Reviews. December 19, 2010.
  25. ^ a b Eisenhower, Rachel (December 21, 2010). "Cool App-titude: Word Lens". Signal Scape.
  26. ^ Evans, Joel (December 21, 2010). "Instant word translations without an internet connection with Word Lens". ZDNet. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010.
  27. ^ Sorrel, Charlie (December 17, 2010). "Word Lens: Augmented Reality App Translates Street Signs Instantly". Wired: Gadget Lab. Retrieved December 20, 2010.
  28. ^ B., N. (December 18, 2010). "Word Lens: This changes everything". The Economist: Gulliver blog.
  29. ^ Kim, Ryan (December 17, 2010). "Augmented Reality Translations: Word Lens vs. Google Goggles". CNN Money: Fortune Tech.
  30. ^ a b c d e Milian, Mark (December 20, 2010). "New iPhone app translates foreign-language signs". CNN: Tech. Retrieved December 20, 2010.
  31. ^ Grobart, Sam (December 17, 2010). "Word Lens: Una App Loca". The New York Times: Technology.
  32. ^ a b Pogue, David (December 29, 2010). "The Pogies: Best Tech Ideas of the Year". The New York Times: Technology.
  33. ^ a b c d e f Olson, Parmy (December 22, 2010). "Hot, New 'Word Lens' App Is Founder's First Project In Augmented Reality". Forbes.
  34. ^ a b c d Rooney, Ben (December 29, 2010). "Apps We Use: Word Lens [iOS]". The Wall Street Journal: TechEurope.
  35. ^ Boutin, Paul (May–June 2011). "A New Reality: Applications that overlay information on smart-phone screen views will change the way we interact with the world around us". Technology Review.
  36. ^ Wise, Harrison (December 14, 2011). "Word Lens Introduces French Language to Its Augmented Reality-Based Translation Capabilities". Yahoo Finance.
  37. ^ Perez, Sarah (December 19, 2011). "Bonnes Nouvelle! Word Lens Parle Français". TechCrunch.
  38. ^ Velazco, Chris (May 16, 2014). "Google acquires Word Lens makers to improve Translate". Engadget: TechEurope.
  39. ^ Dial, Minter (March 16, 2012). "MDE23: Interview with Word Lens founder, Otavio Good at Netexplo". The Myndset: MDE23. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  40. ^ Eaton, Kit (June 13, 2012). "For Starters, These Are a Few of My Favorite Apps". The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2012.