Facebook's product manager Tom Stocky said on Monday that the social network has agreed to acquire Mobile Technologies, a speech recognition and machine translation startup that developed the Jibbigo Translator app. He said that voice technology has become an increasingly important way for people to navigate mobile devices and the web, and this technology will help Facebook evolve its products to match that evolution.
"Although more than a billion people around the world already use Facebook every month, we are always looking for ways to help connect the rest of the world as well," he said. "We believe this acquisition is an investment in our long-term product roadmap as we continue towards our company's mission. With this deal we will welcome some of the industry's most talented people to our engineering teams in Menlo Park, California."
Mobile Technologies, founded in 2001, launched the Jibbigo Translator app in 2009 (iTunes, Google Play), the "world's first" speech-to-speech translator that runs on a phone both online and offline. It allows users to select from over 25 languages, record a voice sentence or type text into the app, and then receive a translation on-screen or aloud in the chosen language. The premium product is free to use online, but customers must make a one-time in-app purchase to use the service offline.
The Pittsburgh-based Jibbigo developer said on Monday that it also developed and deployed the first automatic, simultaneous interpretation service for lectures and deployed it in educational settings. The team will continue to develop its translation technology under Facebook's roof in Menlo Park, California, and find "new and interesting" ways to apply it to Facebook’s long-term product roadmap. Facebook is the perfect platform to deploy the developer's tech on a global scale, the company said.
"We want to thank the institutes that have helped us so much over the years, including Carnegie Mellon University and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology," Mobile Technologies said. "We’re excited about the opportunities ahead and the opportunity to take the dream of a world without language barriers to yet another level."
Back in October 2011, Facebook launched a new translation tool powered by Microsoft's Bing Translate that allows users to manually translate News Feed posts and comments directly online. However, the Mobile Technologies acquisition could mean that Facebook may be able to bring the translation process in-house -- make it a core technology that can be licensed out to other firms -- rather than having to rely on a third party such as Microsoft.
The potentials of Facebook acquisition could be huge. As Tech Crunch points out, Facebook could one day serve up cross-language chat, voice translation for travelers, and voice Graph Search that supports more languages than English. It could make global Facebook users even more united by automatically translating News Feed posts from one language to another.
Facebook said that for now, it will continue to support the Jibbigo app. We're betting that this will be incorporated into the Facebook app sometime in the near future.