Ladies and Gentlemen, the future is here: at least, a future as partly imagined by Douglas Adams. Word Lens for iPhone and iPod touch takes augmented reality and makes it actually useful, performing real-time instant translations of text as seen through the Apple devices' video camera and overlaying your choice of language on-screen.
Video demo after the cut
The app itself is free, but the translation packs are in-app purchases; right now only English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English are supported - each being $4.99 - but we're guessing the company will add in more dictionaries as time goes on. The language packs are locally stored and don't require a data connection, so if you're on holiday abroad you don't have to worry about haemorrhaging roaming charges.
There are some limitations, unsurprisingly: Word Lens only works with printed text, not handwriting, though you can get translations by manually entering words and phrases with the iPhone's keyboard. Stylized fonts can also cause problems, and the iPod touch's lack of autofocus might mean some experimentation with positioning is required. Still, it's one of the most interesting - and useful - apps we've seen in a long while, and with the App Store crammed full of titles it's not often you hear that.