Finishing up my five day series of travel tech tips from, or inspired by, the 2019 edition of 101 iPhone Travel Tips, Tricks, Hacks and Apps, here’s a tip for how to translate a photo or image on your iPhone or iPad.

This tip also isn’t in the book, but might make a future edition, because I’ve found it to be super useful.

Sometimes when you’re traveling you’ll have the need to translate an image or photo. It could be a photo you’ve taken of a ticket, a magazine snippet, a book, a brochure, or something else.

One common scenario I have, is the need to translate a message from a service provider like a phone company, or the ride sharing service, Grab. (I wrote a review of Grab Bike and Grab Car, along with a free promo coupon code for use here.)  Grab, for example, offers discounted rides in their app. However, these offers sometimes appear as pop-up images images within the app. That is, you can’t simply copy the text displayed and paste it into Google Translate to figure out what they’re trying to communicate. Instead, you’ll need to capture the image, and translate the photo or image on your iPhone or iPad.

There are a few good ways you can solve this image translation problem.


Google Translate



Google Translate’s image translation feature uses an interesting kind of a ‘paint’ feature. How it works, is that you move your finger over the text on the image to highlight and translate the selected text. Alternatively, you can select all of the text and have it translated in the familiar Google Translate language pair translation box. While I like the ability to translate just the text I’m interested in, it generally isn’t my preferred way of translating an image.


Microsoft Translator



Microsoft Translator approaches the image translation task a different way. You open the image from your camera roll inside the Microsoft Translation app. Microsoft Translate changes the opacity of the image, and superimposes a copy of the translation over the top of it. From there you can flip back and forth between the translated version and the original version. I quite like this approach, however, Microsoft Translator is currently limited to translating between about 20 different language pairs, compared to nearly 100 with Google.


Third party apps



Finally, there are several third-party apps in the App Store that bring more features to the image translation game.

There’s an app I’ve been using for a long time called Scan&Translate+ by Aisberg. It works much like the standard scanner apps you can find in the App Store. First, you take a photo, or import an image from your Camera Roll. Then you adjust the borders and crop the image to scan only the text you want to translate. The app then performs Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on the image.

Next, the text is returned to you in the original language. You can either edit it, listen to it, or copy and paste it into another app. In most cases, and assuming you won’t understand the original language, you can just delete any nonsense text that has been created during the OCR process. Next, you select the language pair you want to translate between, and the text is sent off to Google for translation. The translated text is then returned to you. If the translation isn’t accurate, you could copy the text in the original language from the app and use another translation app, to see if it provides a more accurate translation. Apps that use a different translation engine than Google include Microsoft Translator and iTranslate.

Scan&Translate+ comes in a free version, which is ad-supported, with an in-app purchase to unlock unlimited translations. You (currently) get five free translations per day, before you have to watch an additional video advertisement. Until recently, the app was also offered separately as a paid PRO version for a few dollars, however, the developer has shifted to a subscription model (around $30/year). For most people, it probably won’t represent that kind of value. That said, most third-party translation apps will be paid or ad-supported because they need to pay Google for translating their text.

If translating images is a common workflow for you, it is worth searching the App Store to see if there is an app that suits your specific needs. Otherwise, I’d encourage you to have a play with Google Translate and Microsoft Translator to see how they work for you.