Software that can translate languages in real time would be huge news for travel, business and society as a whole. Names big and small have promised to make this technological leap in recent years, but it is by no means commonplace. Now Google has arrived on the scene with its first set of wireless earbuds that are claimed to translate 40 languages in real time, along with a few other handy features.
A number of smaller startups have emerged recently touting earbuds and headphones claiming to translate conversations in real time. Microsoft has also developed a solution and integrated it into Skype, while Google has of course been in the game for some time with its Google Translate software, which it equipped with live voice translation abilities in 2015.
But taking in turns speaking into a phone or desktop computer is one thing, and seamlessly interacting with somebody in a different language through nothing but a discreet earpiece is another. And that's the capability Google is promising with its debut set of wireless earphones, the Pixel Buds.
Announced today at the Google Pixel event, the Pixel Buds aren't wireless in the same way that Apple's AirPods are – they connect to one another via a cable around the back of the head – but do connect wirelessly to mobile devices via Bluetooth. They feature a touchpad on the right earbud for swipe control over your music, and come with a pocket-sized charging case that carries enough juice 24 hours of extra listening time.
Google says the buds sound great (as they would) and pair instantly, but what's most impressive is an ability to translate 40 languages. Powered by Google Translate on the Pixel smartphone, the buds are claimed to effectively work as a personal translator hidden away in your ear. So by holding down the right ear piece and saying "Help me speak Japanese," the phone's speaker will play a Japanese translation out loud. When your Japanese-speaking friend responds, it will be translated and played back through the earbuds in your native tongue.
The Pixel Buds also come with Google Assistant built in, allowing for voice commands for music control, phones calls and to get directions through Google Maps. It can also be made to read out text messages and upcoming calendar alerts.
The Pixel Buds can be used as regular old ear buds with iOS devices, but for the Google Assistant and translation functions they require a paired Pixel or Android device running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or higher. They run for five hours on each charge and come in either black, white, or blue. They can be preordered from today and will be available in November for US$159.