anewdomain.net – This week an Israel-based startup launched what it claims is the “first low-cost phone service equipped with on-the-fly translation to nearly every major language.”
I spoke with Itay Sagie, Chief Marketing Officer of Lexifone, on the phone and was treated to a demonstration of the service, which officially debuted last week.
“This is the first time that small and medium businesses around the world have the opportunity to have these translated calls, which is only something that big enterprises could enjoy until now from human interpreters … but those are about 20 times more expensive than Lexifone,” Sagie told me.
At the moment, Lexifone is accessed by registering for an account via the web or an Android app. The service works in a manner similar to many conference call and call recording services that require users to dial in to one of many central access numbers in a number of different countries and regions. Once connected “Hotels, retailers, rental companies, manufacturers and so many other types of companies have struggled to conduct business even in English as a second and third language and certainly when there’s no common language,” continued Sagie. “Now the very importance of each word and expression can be naturally spoken on both ends of the call.”
Lexifone identifies the user’s native language via caller ID and account settings. The next step is to select the number to call and the foreign language that contact will be speaking.
Once both parties are connected, Lexifone acts as a digital assistant and translator for both parties that is controlled through a combination of dialed and spoken commands.
The Lexifone experience can be a little jarring and crowded at first due to the presence of the extra digital voices on the call, but it’s certainly no less unwieldy than having to speak through two human translators on each end of the call or, even worse, trying to pass each sentence through a third party translation app like Jibbigo or Google Translate.
The most impressive feature of Lexifone during the brief demonstration I was given was the speed and accuracy of the translation, which were both markedly better than the aforementioned apps. Sagie and I attempted a Spanish-English conversation and, being somewhat fluent in both languages, it seemed to me that Lexifone was spot on in its translations and with practically no processing delay.
According to a release, Lexifone can handle translations in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Russian, and Mandarin.
In addition to translating calls, Lexifone also provides face-to-face translation for people in the same room. Simply put Lexifone on speakerphone and it translates the conversation.
When using a prepaid Lexifone account, the service provides translated calls for as low as 15 cents a minute, and can also be used as a basic international calling service. The company’s CallMe service also gives businesses the option to provide a unique access number for customers who speak a foreign language, effectively avoiding lost business due to language barriers and misunderstandings.
“Hotels, retailers, rental companies, manufacturers and so many other types of companies have struggled to conduct business even in English as a second and third language and certainly when there’s no common language,” said Sagie’s father, company founder and CEO Ike Sagie. “Now the very importance of each word and expression can be naturally spoken on both ends of the call.”
The senior Sagie is a computational linguist who developed the proprietary Linguistic Optimization Engine at the core of Lexifone.
“This is his life’s work, basically,” his son told me.
Sagie admits that Lexifone’s translation is not 100 percent accurate, but points out that perfect translation may not even be possible and insists that the service’s linguistic engine is at the forefront of automated translation.
At the moment, new Lexifone accounts come with a $1.25 credit to try it out, and Sagie says the Android app provides a streamlined experience. An iOS version is on the way.Tags: BYOD,Entrepreneurship,Technology