Continuing from yesterday, here’s one of the new tips from the (2019) edition of 101 iPhone Travel Tips, Tricks, Hacks and Apps (out next week – you can buy the digital version now). Its one of my favourite app discoveries at the moment.

Tip 91 – Have a conversation in a foreign language in any app

Installing a translation keyboard on your iPhone allows you to translate between different languages without leaving the app. You know what I mean… without switching back and forth between Google Translate and the app you’re using. Its an incredible timesaver.

The first app in this space was Translator Keyboard by Steven Barnegren ($1.99) and got rave reviews due to its innovation. Translator Keyboard enabled you to translate from around 40 different languages from inside any app. (That includes email, SMS, or instant messaging like Whatsapp, iMessage, and so on.) While the app is still available, the developer doesn’t respond to messages, and hasn’t updated the app in a few years.

iTranslate by Sonico GmbH (free) is another app that has this capability.

The main issue with iTranslate, and some of these third party translation keyboard apps, is they don’t have auto-correct or swipe keyboards that allow you to enter text quickly. If you make a typing error, you have to go back and correct the individual words, rather than the keyboard automatically correcting it for you (or offering suggestions).

The app that I really like in this space is called Transboard by pathinput (free, in-app purchases). After the first 2,000 characters you get for free to try the app, you have to pay for packs of 20,000 characters translated.

Most apps in this space are going to be paid (or have in-app purchases for characters used in translation) because the developer needs to pay Google for submitting the text for translation.

iTranslate is free, but they make money from in-app purchases and subscriptions, so I expect they cross-subsidise the translations they’re making from this feature, or use their own translation database.

What I like about the app is that it has a swipe keyboard and offers suggestions for the words you type. That makes input of words very easy, particularly for someone like me that makes a lot of spelling mistakes when I enter them character by character. Honestly, I would given up with iTranslate (even though that function is free) because I just make too many mistakes, and its not easy to correct them.

That said, I’ve tried contacting the developer of Transboard, and have received no response. His website also appears to be abandoned. I’ve purchased one of the translation packs and it works for the translation.

I love the idea of this app, because there are apps I use to chat with others that don’t have any translation capability (unlike WeChat which has free translation in-built).

The popular ride-sharing app, Grab, also offers free in-app communication, but no translation. What that means is that I have to constantly flip back and forth between Google Translate and the app I’m using to translate messages. One dollar for the translation pack is a small price to pay for the convenience of doing everything within the one app.

My expectation is that the app will continue to work until there’s some major change to iOS, or the third party keyboard function that breaks it. I expect that the developer is unlikely to update it in the future. At the moment, it still works fine though.

One final caution: Make sure you agree with the privacy policy of these apps, though, as they may store all of the information you send via the app on their servers. Some developers make it clear that they don’t do this.


UPDATE: Just a few weeks after writing this, Google updated their popular G-Board swipe keyboard to include translation, and its very good. I’ve been using it for several weeks now and, although its not perfect, I do prefer it. One of the main reasons was because I was already using G-Board anyway, and so I don’t have to swap to a translator keyboard. Plus the translation is unlimited and free, unlike these other third-party apps. Obviously, some people might have an issue with sending their private data to Google. I think that, over time, Google will enhance the keyboard in terms of its ease of use and maybe functionality, which will make it the leading pick in this space. If you’re traveling, I’d recommend you try out the translator keyboard, because they do make translated conversations a lot easier.

PRO TIP: Add the foreign language keyboard for the language at your destination, to make it easier for foreigners to communicate with you, using your device.