Word Lens translates printed words in real time on your iPhone. Can our jet packs be far behind? Developed by Quest Visual, Word Lens is an augmented-reality translation app that uses your phone's camera to view printed words and translate them into another language as you watch. If you’re traveling for business or on vacation and need to read a street sign or a menu, point your phone and Word Lens instantly translates it, maintaining the color and font as it goes.

Word Lens is currently available for the iPhone via iTunes. The app is free, with languages available for in-app purchase at US$5 each. So far, only Spanish-to-English and English-to-Spanish are available, but Quest Visual has plans to offer additional languages soon. After you purchase the languages, they are downloaded to your phone so you do not need a network connection to use Word Lens.

Quest Visual says the app is as easy to use as taking a picture with your phone. The app offers a zoom feature so you can crop out extraneous details, and a flashlight feature to light up the text if necessary. In addition, you can translate words by typing them in. Word Lens works best on clearly printed text, and does not work with decorative fonts or handwriting.

The app uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology to analyze the image and translate the words it finds. You can test out the Word Lens OCR capability in the free app using two cute features that will spell all words in the image backwards, or digitally erase all the words in the image. Like most translators and translation software, Word Lens is not perfect, but Visual Quest promises that you can at least get the general meaning of the text.

Word Lens works with the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and iPod Touch with camera, and requires iOS 4.0 or later (The iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch do not support the zoom and flashlight features). There is no official word on an Android version yet.

Quest Visual seems to have a hit on its hands. In its first day of release on iTunes, Word Lens quickly climbed into the top 40 app chart. Hopefully we can look forward to its continued development, with more languages and improved translations. Details are available on iTunes.

View gallery - 3 images