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Mobile Interpreting Apps Catch On
Posted by Nataly Kelly on December 21, 2010  in the following blogs: Interpreting, Technology
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Last week, we wrote about the explosion of translation applications for mobile phones driven by the ubiquity of demand for language tools. As we pointed out, language services and technology companies have also released products designed to facilitate not just text-based language, but spoken communication as well. Now, less than a week later, two more U.S.-based firms — Cyracom and Mobile Technologies — have jumped on the language app bandwagon with announcements of their own.

First up, Mobile Technologies. The company is already a familiar face on the iPhone, having launched a Japanese<>English machine interpretation application in 2009. The company announced yesterday that this product — called Jibbigo — is now also available for French, German, Korean, and Tagalog (Filipino). With its latest language additions and earlier releases for Chinese, Iraqi Arabic, and Spanish, the company’s app now enables users to communicate between English and eight other languages.

One unique aspect of Jibbigo is that it has been field tested, well, in the field. Soon after the U.S. military provided iPod Touches to soldiers, Jibbigo was made available for Iraqi Arabic. Founder Alex Waibel, who is also a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, spoke in an interview with CIO magazine about the fact that getting people to overcome language barriers is preferable to “the ignorance, fear, suspicion and mistrust that comes with lack of communication.”

However, perhaps one of Jibbigo’s most unique facets is that it works without a phone connection, so users can communicate even when there is no phone connection. That’s an important point of differentiation from the numerous apps that have sprung up to connect users to human interpreters by placing a conference call.

In the vein of these dial-an-interpreter apps, Top 35 language service provider Cyracom has just announced its own interpreting app targeted at health care professionals, to be released in early 2011. While Cyracom’s offering is not actually available yet, it will serve the same basic function as apps released previously by competitors Language Line, Language Services Associates, and ZVRS — giving a mobile phone user access to a human interpreter through a teleconference or video conference call.

However, Cyracom has taken a different approach from its competitors in targeting a much narrower segment of the target market. Instead of marketing to a broad consumer base, the company’s app seeks to increase usage among existing users of telephone interpreting services in the hundreds of hospitals that already use its services.

Cyracom also claims that its app will enable medical staff to enter and store patients’ medical record numbers directly into their phones. However, this feature also raises the possibility of patient confidentiality and privacy issues. For example, it remains to be seen if the Cyracom app will follow best practices for mobile device data encryption to ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

No sooner did we write in our 2011 predictions that we expected to see more companies build language support directly into everyday products, and the press releases began to flood in about mobile language-related apps. Expect to see many more announcements of this type in 2011, as translation — and interpreting — become more widely available to the masses than ever before.


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Keywords: Interpreting, Machine interpretation, Telephone interpreting, Video interpreting

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