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Apple debuts Translate app at WWDC 2020

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Apple introduced a new app that can automatically translate between 11 languages, including French, Mandarin Chinese, and Arabic.

The iPhone-maker debuted the new Translate app, akin to the 14-year-old Google Translate, on Monday during the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), a virtual event this year because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Yael Garten, Apple’s director of Siri data science and engineering, described Apple Translate as “easy to use for conversation.”

The app displays translations on the iPhone’s screen of what the speakers say, with the help of Apple’s Siri digital assistant. A conversation between an English speaker and Spanish speaker, for example, would be displayed in text on different parts of the screen.

Apple’s new app is powered by “on-device machine learning,” meaning that it translates directly on iPhones instead of sending data to Apple’s data centers. Garten said that on-device translation is better for “accuracy and privacy” because no user data leaves the smartphone during the translation process.

In contrast, Google Translate relies on cloud data centers for translation. But the search giant also offers an “offline” mode, which can be used without Internet access and limits data collection.

Apple executives emphasized data privacy at multiple points during its event in an attempt to distinguish it from competitors like Google and Facebook, which have come under fire for lax data collection policies. 

Apple Translate is one of several new features the company introduced as part of its iOS 14 update for the iPhone. Other languages the app translates include English, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian.

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