It seems almost bizarre- a practical joke. Install Word Lens and point your iPhone camera at a foreign language sign to have it translated it back to English. The translation isn’t perfect and there are problems when the sign or type is against a blurry background but it still marks an enormous leap of using the phone camera as the input. The translation is shown as an image, with the same background and roughly the same type as the sign. No other input required. It’s an entirely new crease on augmented reality. So, if you were next to a monument, where the description was in French, you could instantly figure out what it was about without asking a guide. Run it over a Spanish language menu at a restaurant and you would know what the dishes were.
It could be a good way to serve up relevant advertising as well. If the translation was for a restaurant, it would be perfect to offer the other choices in the area. If the translation were required for a sign, rental cars in the vicinity could be displayed. Right now, advertising is only served based on search terms or location. The translation offers another input on what is likely to be the objective.
But the real change here is the use of the camera as a search or clarification input. That’s clearly new. I can also see the potential for a website that captures the images and a ‘Word Lens’ filter being applied to the pictures so that you can read the signs and make out what they are. Japanese and Russian cityscapes would begin to make a lot more sense.