The Panini Keypad is a Java-based mobile application by Noida-based Luna Ergonomics which supports 8 international and 11 Indian languages. What’s interesting is that it uses statistical predictive texting: by analysing a database of words, Clevertexting, Luna’s patent-pending technology, statistically predicts what you are most likely to type next.

Abhijit Bhattacharjee, CEO and Founder, Luna Ergonomics told MediaNama that they don’t to have on-board linguists. We only need to get a corpus of the language and mine it: something that has happened in the corpus 20,000 times can not be wrong. Errors are ironed out automatically by the system. Anything with errors will become part of a statistical correlation,” says Bhattacharjee.

Usage Stats, Language Support, Other Models

According to the company, Panini has around 500 downloads per day and 400 downloads for its global family of products. Clevertexting Arabic is the most popular, the company  claims. Within 2 months on the midlet site GetJar.com, the apps have seen downloads of: 15,000 for Arabic,  4,500 for Hindi, 45,000 for English and 400-500 for Finnish.

Panini currently supports: Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Punjabi (Gurmukhi), Assamese, English, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, French, Swahili, Hebrew and Finnish. Luna will add support for Chinese, Japanese and Korean in 3 months’ time. Panini also offers transliteration support, but only for Indic languages: you can write it in Malayalam and send it in Hindi, or read a Kannada message in Telugu.

How long does it take to add support for one language? “That depends on how much content we can collect: blogs, writings. We use the text for mining. Online content is very relevant and represents current flavour of the language. On an average, it takes around 3 months,” he said, adding that it would be faster to develop for smaller languages. How is this different from T9? T-9 and other writing methods depend on dictionaries, which are susceptible to mistakes. Other models of input currently available are:

Nikhil adds: I’m not convinced that this would work from a usability perspective. Being used to a particular keypad structure, out of habit, I type without looking at the keys. I would certainly not be comfortable with a virtual keypad that keeps changing with every press of a button.

Issues

When we tried the usability demo for the web, there was a Java error. (screenshot below) In response, Bhattacharjee had this to say, “It was an old demo, we have now built an AJAX version, which is a server side app.”

We also found it did not work perfectly on a Nokia 5800 touchscreen mobile: the screen for the keypad is miniscule and English and Hindi keypads did not display, though Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Marathi and others did. We will update this post with more on our experience with the app, but if you have tried it, please leave a comment.

The sites FAQ revealed that Luna is investigating causes behind the garbling of text when delivered on certain CDMA phones: “It was a problem of handsets not supporting Unicode, which is the worldwide standard we use.”

The demo versions of Panini and Clevertexting are available on the company’s websites as well as on other free download sites. The demo versions last for 7 days or ten messages.

Luna also has two more patent-pending technologies: a DRM app for Java software, and their early version of Clevertexting for Indic languages which did not use the statistical model.

Lessons Learnt

The company launched Clevertexting English in December 2008, and after a year attempting various versions of the apps and even a B2C model, changed its strategy and developed Panini for Business in January 2009.

In April 2009, Luna approached handset retail chain HotSpot to sell the application, sensing that the time had not arrived for handset manufacturers to bundle the app. Luna offered four retail models: Panini Basic, Clever, Premium and Touch. “It was a challenge: we sold scratch cards and Hotspot received 30% of the proceeds. The one month pilot at Delhi went well until feedback from the salesmen came through that they were spending a lot of time and bandwidth explaining the different versions of the product.”

“There are different revenue models for us now: from handset manufacturers, telecom operators and B2C,” It is also considering using advertising on its trial ware. Hong Kong based Exicon is attempting to co-ordinate this for Luna.

Panini On Other Devices & Increasing Indic Language Content

Panini keypad can also be ported onto other digital devices: a TV remote, IPTV, set top box, ATM, touch screen kiosks, a PC or a tablet PC. And this is intended to spark off the production of more UGC content in regional languages online and offline. “This is an opportunity for an Indian innovation to define how people all over the world will write in their own languages in all varieties of digital devices. In the decades ahead, we will see hundreds of implementations in varieties of devices inspired by this dynamic prediction model,” says Bhattacharjee.

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