Somebody needs to build an Indic Language layer on existing touch screen mobile operating systems in India. Otherwise, you’ll find that the number of people using the Mobile Internet in India will hit a language barrier. Then, much like web has had to do in India, Mobile Internet will have to wait for a generational change for growth beyond a point. There’s a fairly massive mobile user base that uses only voice and SMS.
Sure, we shouldn’t assume that Indian users want Indic languages, but there’s only so much that an icon-application based interface can allow users to do. Where touch screen phones become important, is that they have the ability to address the cost of having a multi-lingual keypad. We’ve seen attempts at implementing software solutions (transliteration as well as software keypads) to these hardware problems – Panini, as well as solutions from Reverie Systems, Eterno Infotech and Tachyon, but imagine being able to pull down an Indic language keypad, or just switching to an Indic interface for your operating system. I have little doubt that Android will be as pervasive as Symbian in India, and perhaps this is something Google and Nokia (for Symbian or Meego) need to do. Price of touchscreen handsets won’t remain high for ever: the Motorola EX128 is available for Rs. 5990, even if it needs a stylus. Another year, and touchscreen handsets will hit the Rs. 4000 tipping point in India. (Update: Kushan Mitra on Twitter informs me that there already are touch screen handsets around the Rs. 4000 mark in India, just not smartphones. All we need is an Indic layer for the OS, then)
So, I’ll leave you with some future-gazing: when the OS boots up, you’re asked to select a language (unless you’ve set a default language). The applications you have installed are displayed in the language of your choosing. As you load your browser, is serves you pages already translated in the language of your choosing, and now you have access to all that the web has to offer. If you need to send email, you just pull down a keypad, which allows you switch between multiple languages. Your browser identifies your language, so you’re served local language advertising, which will thus be more relevant, and the chances of click-throughs are higher.
Sounds like something Google might do, no? Certainly not the Indian government, with its Indian Language Technology Proliferation and Deployment Centre, with lots of translation tools that few people use.