Word Lens is one of those apps that grabs your attention the first time you see it in action. Created by Quest Visual, it is an iPhone-based optical character recognition (OCR) application used for language translation. In real-world usage, it will translate a foreign language sign in an instant using your camera. Word Lens uses OCR to single out the letters in an image captured by your camera. It identifies letters, builds the words and looks them up in its built-in dictionary. Once the words are identified, translation from one language to another is easy. Translation is not perfect, but it is good enough to get the basic understanding of the translated words.
Word Lens is similar in functionality to Google Goggles, which also lets you translate words within an image. Word Lens, though, has a leg up on its competition as the image processing and translating is done on the phone, in real-time. Google Goggles relies on Google's servers for the translation, which slows down the translation time and requires you to have an internet connection.
Word Lens is now available on the App Store for you to try. The core app is available for free, and language pairs (English/Spanish) are available as an in-app purchase. At launch, the app only supports English to Spanish and Spanish to English translations. Additional languages will be added in future versions. If you don't want to buy a language pack, it is worth a download as the app includes two demo modes. The reverse mode will reverse the letters in an image, and the erase mode will white-out the words.
Word Lens requires iOS 4.0 or later and a video camera. It is compatible with the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS or the 4th generation iPod touch. You can see Word Lens in action after the break.