Translation apps can be really useful when you’re traveling in a foreign country or trying to chat with someone who speaks another language, but some results from translation software lack nuance or just sound plain crazy in their translated form.
That’s the problem that the creator of Boomerang is trying to solve. Boomerang is a new iOS app that uses Google Translate to translate phrases in 104 different languages; then translates the phrasing back into the original language for you to make sure that what you’re trying to say actually makes sense.
It’s a simple app, but one that could come in handy when you’re trying to say “Sorry for my poor Chinese” and not “poor Chinese person.” Then again, depending on how long it takes to translate and re-translate and re-type a new sentence — the most value might just come from seeing how ridiculous the initial translations are.
Boomerang, which was created by indie app developer Ishmael Shabazz, is free to download, but has ads; for an ad-free experience, you can pay a $1.99 annual subscription. Shabazz said in a note to The Verge that Google charges $20 for every million characters translated through Google Translate, so he’s basically wagering that the combination of ad revenue and subscription revenue will be higher than the translation expenses.
Of course, while awkward translations have been fodder for jokes and even a memorable Jimmy Fallon segment, the truth is that Google’s translation software has gotten increasingly sophisticated in a remarkably short period of time, thanks to the magic of machine learning. Last fall the company said it was starting to use a new technique, called Google Neural Machine Translation, to vastly improve its AI-powered translation system.
Shabazz says he welcomes the day when a tool like Boomerang is no longer needed, but that he foresees it being useful for quite some time.