AT&T launches an SMS-based language translation service called Muuzii

An interesting new Spanish and Chinese translation service called Muuzii has made its way to AT&T’s(s t) 2G network. Unlike other app-based translators, Muuzii performs its translations using the most basic data channel on the phone: SMS.

Subscribers simply type an English phrase in a text message and send it to a Muuzii short code, and get back a Spanish or Chinese translation (depending on which language you register for). The service will also preform Spanish-to-English translations, though not Chinese-to-English.

There are definite advantages to SMS as a translation tool: It’s nearly universally available and doesn’t rely on the phone’s fickle data connection. It also means the service works on even the most basic phones – all it needs is an SMS client. The company also offers an enhanced service called Muuzii Speak, which will return an audio translation embedded in an MMS message. That audio file can be played in either an MMS client or a separate Android Muuzii app.

An example of three Muuzii services: Spanish to English, English to Spanish and Muuzii speak (Source: Muuzii)

An example of three Muuzii services: Spanish to English, English to Spanish and Muuzii Speak (Source: Muuzii)

The core SMS service costs $2.99 a month, while the MMS audio translation service is is $3.99. Both services will be charged directly to your AT&T bill.

Muuzii was founded in Beijing in 2007 by brother and sister Eric and Ling Fang, both of whom worked as English interpreters for Chinese businesses. In 2013, the company struck began working through AT&T’s developer program to bring its service to the U.S. It launched its first education-focused language apps in December, targeting English-as-a-second-language learners, and began trialing its full translation service earlier this year.

Muuzii founders Ling and Eric Fang

Muuzii founders Ling and Eric Fang

Muuzii’s service is exclusive to AT&T, at least for now, though the company said it plans to expand to other North American and South American carriers this year. Whether that means it will partner with other U.S. carriers or launch its service as an independent app remains to be seen.

On its website Muuzii is offering a free 14-day trial, which at first appears to be carrier agnostic. I was able to register on the service with my Verizon phone, but when I tried sending texts to be translated into Spanish, I received no response. It looks as if the service is tied specifically to AT&T’s SMS infrastructure.