A working group for a a Virtual Keyboard Standard for Indic Languages is being launched on 25th January 2012 by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). The Working Group will essentially finalize a standard for an Indic language keyboard for touch screen interfaces that can be used by smart phone and tablet manufacturers.
A statement from the IEEE says that a study group comprising representatives of the government, research institutions and industry spent close to a year assessing the status of different initiatives and defining the scope of the project, and the working group will “address the limitations of previous standards efforts that have been unable to fully accommodate the preferences of languages other than Hindi and/or that have a high learning curve because of lack of phonetic mapping between English and Indian language characters or lack of dynamic presentation of Indian language characters.” More in the Press Release
While this is a step in the right direction, readers should note that just because a standard is finalized for a virtual keyboard, it doesn’t mean that it will be implemented by OEMs and/or OS manufacturers: the 3gpp standard for Indic language SMS was finalized in 2009, and it doesn’t appear as if telecom operators and handset manufacturers in India have done anything to implement them. In this case, it is different because the keypad is for touch screen phones, and a virtual keypad can also be an external application. However, while defining a standard is a positive step, and it might help ensure that there is at least one indic keypad per language on smart phones and tablets, I hope it also does lead to development of other types of keypads, giving consumers more choice, the way Swype was developed.