iPhone keyboard that translates as you type

SINGAPORE - Switch seamlessly to Chinese when you are typing a message in English on your smartphone? It's easy with a new translation keyboard devised by a team that won a tech innovation contest on Sunday.

While there are translation sites or apps, users typically need to open them and key in words before the translation is done. But team members Ashish Awaghad, Ben Liew and Mark Thien have developed special keyboards for iPhone users to translate languages directly without opening sites or apps.

The user simply needs to download a starter app called SmoothTalk and use it to install a special keyboard in his iPhone. He can then type in English while a Chinese translation will appear on the keyboard in real time.

"Think of it like an emoji keyboard," said Mr Awaghad, 26, a software engineer. "Except that it does real-time translation when you type into it."

The trio noticed that more people were travelling and communicating via e-mail or WhatsApp in a foreign language. So they decided to develop a more convenient way for translation.

The keyboard is still in its infancy and limited to English-Chinese translation. The team plans to refine it and include more languages before it goes to the mass market.

SmoothTalk is programed to allow users to buy credits off online payment company PayPal, and translate a given number of characters. The keyboard was one of 29 projects developed at yesterday's PayPal BattleHack, a 24-hour challenge in which teams compete to devise a useful invention integrating PayPal's mechanisms.

Team TalkWithMe will represent Singapore and compete against 13 other teams round the world for a grand prize of US$100,000 (S$126,000) in the PayPal BattleHack Finals in San Jose next month.

This article was first published on September 15, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.