No, Google Did Not Just Invent Real-Time Translation

But their new earbuds certainly close the language barrier

October 5, 2017 9:00 am

So Google intro’d a bunch of smart speakers and tech the other day, winning pretty decent reviews (especially when it comes to their minimalist design).

But that buzz you hear? It was for Google’s new earbuds that (supposedly) offer real-time translation.

The wireless, shoelace-like Google Pixel Buds are powered by Google Assistant, which you summon by pressing the right earbud. Besides offering normal voice assistance (weather, directions, etc.), the Buds give you direct access to Google Translate, so you can get spoken translation from about 40 languages.

As Skift outlined, “Picture a foreign traveler in St. Petersburg, Russia asking a store clerk to recommend out-of-the way restaurants where the food is good and the locals hang out. Just hand the clerk the phone, and get the translated recommendation right to the traveler’s earbuds.”

That’s not quite the instantaneous Babel fish translation we were promised (also, translation tech already exists in other forms). As of now, there’s still a little bit of clunky back and forth with uncomfortable pauses during a conversation— though The Verge notes, “It’s not quite in real time, but it’s very fast.”

The pauses were apparent during Google’s onstage demo, when the back-and-forth between a Swedish and an English speaker was pleasant but a little forced, with a lot of earbud touching and two parties staring at a phone.

All that said, the black-and-white buds are pretty nifty looking (I may be in the minority on that one) and feature five hours of listening time on one charge, with up to 24 hours when using Pixel Bud’s charging case. They’ll be available in November for $159.

When we get our hands on one, we’ll speak more to it then.

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