It's been over a year since the cat translator app Meowtalk launched to great fanfare at the end of 2020 and it's gone on to see more than 3 million downloads as all us feline pet parents out there try to get one step closer to figuring out what these mysterious little creatures are trying to tell us.
Available on Android and Apple, there's added language support for Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, Greek, German, and French, so even if your kitty doesn't speak English, you'll still be able to decipher what they're chatting to you about.
Trying to understand cat communication has never been the easiest thing for us humans, after all, unlike our canine companions, our feline friends can be rather complex. And while cat apps are nothing new, Meowtalk is special. Developed by Javier Sanchez, a former Amazon engineer who worked on voice-recognition device Alexa, the app analyzes the sounds your kitty is making and then runs it through a sophisticated database of 40 million recorded 'meows' to give you a translation. Pretty cool, huh?!
The funny thing about meows is that adult cats don't tend to use them to communicate with one another, they actually tend to be something they reserve for their interactions with their humans. Clearly our furry pals are trying to state what they want in a way that they're hoping we'll understand, which, much to their dismay, we often don't! According to Meowtalk though, miscommunication and meows getting lost in translation could well be a thing of the past.
But seriously, can a cat translator app really work or is this just another gimmick designed to get pet parents to part with their hard-earned pennies? We do a deep dive into all things Meowtalk to find out if this app really is as clever as it says it is...
- How to pet cats properly and why you’ve been doing it wrong
- The smart dog collar that translates your dog's barks
- Why do cats meow?
Testing the Meowtalk app
As with anything the proof is in the pudding and how do we get proof? Why, by downloading the Meowtalk App and trying it out for ourselves of course! Thankfully, we had a rather adorable and incredibly vocal black cat called Pirate to act as our assistant on this one and we have to say, she didn't make our job all that easy.
Normally happy to chat up a storm, Pirate was more than a little skeptical about having a phone shoved in her face and decided to opt for stony-faced silence over her usual morning chattering. Thankfully, she soon got to grips with the technology and we were able to capture the 5 to 10 sounds that the app requires to train itself to translate for each cat.
- Best microchip cat flap: Keep out unwanted feline guests
- The best dry cat foods: Which cat kibble comes out top?
- The best wet cat food: From daily dishes to tasty treats
- Best cat toys: Keep your feline friend occupied with these great toys
There are 14 translation suggestions to choose from (as well as ‘Unknown’ and ‘Other’). They include likely meanings such as ‘Feed me!’, ‘Let me out’, I’m in pain’ and ‘Hello’, but the default translation, at least in our experience, is the rather pleasing ‘I’m in love’. Once you’ve trained the app it gets better at matching the sounds to previously vetted examples.
Up until recently, that meant that you were adding your own definition of what you think the sounds mean to the app, which could have been skewing the results a lot. Thankfully, the crew at Meowtalk have since fixed this potential problem by building a database of over 40 million cat sounds from other users, making the app far more accurate.
Here’s an example of one of the sounds we captured from Pirate which the app suggested meant ‘I’m in love’. See if you agree with the translation Meowtalk provided:
Whether you agree or not, it’s a fun app, and it does have its uses. Sanchez tells us his app has helped owners to get closer to their four-legged friends: "People who train the app to learn their cat's unique vocabulary are blown away. Other users who have a strong bond with their cat love being able to play back the recordings of their cat. Many people have told us that they cried when their cat said "I love you" or "Mommy" for the first time."
Even if it's not completely accurate, there's no denying that Meowtalk is a lot of fun and if it helps pet parents bond more deeply with their feline friends, then we're all for it. Plus, it's also a wonderful way of preserving the relationship you share with your moggy by giving you life long recordings of them that you can listen to whenever you need to hear their voice.
"The most moving emails we have received are from users who have had a cat pass unexpectedly and that because of the app they have a record of their cat's voice that they can play back. We get emails like that often," explains Sanchez. If nothing else, that's reason enough for us to give Meowtalk a thumbs up.
The future for MeowTalk
In the more than 12 months since Meowtalk has been out there in the world, Sanchez and his team haven't been resting on their laurels. Not only has the app got more sophisticated in the meow's it's able to recognize and translate, but in July 2021 the crew at Meowtalk also launched MeowRoom, a listening feature on your phone that continually picks up your cat's meows without you having to do anything.
“MeowRoom saves our users the trouble of manually having to turn on the Meowtalk listening feature on their primary phone to catch and translate a meow. With MeowRoom mode, Meowtalk continuously listens for your cat's meow whenever it happens and instantly sends you the translation, so you never miss any of your beloved cat meows,” Sanchez explains.
Meowroom mode, smart collars and health tracking
But it's not just added meanings; a new Meowroom mode will soon turn the app into a smart speaker for cats. As Sanchez explains, "If you have a spare tablet or old phone, you can plug it into the wall and put MeowTalk on it in MeowRoom mode and it will translate (with Meow-to-Speech) each meow your cat makes in the room. Every device that's logged in with the same MeowTalk account will get an alert to the recorded meow in real time."
Longer term Sanchez is already working on the future of cat translation and monitoring: "My vision has always been for a collar that translates a cat's meows to speech. We're working fast and hard to make a viable collar device with hardware beta testing starting this quarter. We'll be adding support for Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian next week. And we're releasing an initial version of our Cat Health and Wellness features in June which will allow pet owners to track their cat's health."
Why isn't there a BarkTalk app for dogs?
Good question! Sanchez says that one of the most common requests he's received since Meowtalk launched is when he'd be putting out a doggy-equivalent, but sadly, he's sorry to say that those of us who own canine companions will remain disappointed - although, for good reason!
"I wish we could make BarkTalk happen but the data and science aren't there for this. Dogs just don't have the vocal capabilities to make more than a handful of distinct sounds - there isn't enough distinction between their barks," Sanchez explains. Thankfully, our doggy buddies tend to be a little bit less confusing with their wants and needs than their feline brothers and sisters.
After thoroughly exploring the Meowtalk app, we reckon it's well worth a try. Besides, the low monthly cost of $2.99 means you haven't got too much to lose and you can cancel at any time, so why not give it a go? You can download the Meowtalk app here for Android or Apple.
Get the best advice, tips and top tech for your beloved Pets
Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer who has been editing and creating content for magazines and websites for over 20 years. As well as writing about the pets he loves, he has helped create websites about tech and innovation like TechRadar.com, Innovate UK and TechSPARK, written programmes for music festivals, books on inventions and architecture, TV listings magazines, and edited publications about cars such as Lexus, Toyota and Jaguar. In his spare time he writes fiction books and poetry - or at least he does when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.