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Should the Indian government mandate Indic languages for mobile handsets? #NAMAindic

mariam-mathewWhile mobile is driving growth for most Indic language publishers, challenges related to rendering of fonts across multiple devices and screen sizes remains a key issue. “The technology has improved, and this makes a difference in case of unicode fonts. It’s still not perfect: it doesn’t go back to legacy devices,” Mariam Mathew, COO, Manorama Online said at the #NAMA event “The Digital Future of Indic Languages” event last week.

“Who are the people who access Indic languages? It’s the people who are not the creme de la creme. The kind of devices are so many, that a lot of the rendering is not standard across devices,” she added.

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Ravi Hegde, Group Editor of Udayavani pointed out that the issues with Android in particular, is that screen sizes are different and fonts do not render well. “What we develop for a bigger size device, is not suitable for lower size device. Sizes change from one tablet to another. They’re not fitting well with designs and interfaces. If we can standardize on screen sizes and font rendering…it is more severe in Indian languages than in English.”

anand-viraniAnand Virani of Qualcomm responded, saying that some kind of standardisation is coming into place, with the market gravitating towards 4″, 4.5″ and 5″ for phones, and 8″ and 10″ for tablets. However, “The availability of menu and the lack of certain technology – for converting English to local languages on the fly and transliterating is still missing.”

Arvind Pani of Reverie Technologies said that their company does provide some of these solutions:”A Micromax device available in 21 languages was done by us, and sells around 250,000 devices a month.” Reverie also pre-installed a Hindi phonebook app into 5 Micromax devices. “It’s not available on the play store yet. In the last one month, we have seen 450,000 new users using that app.”

arvind-paniIs the Web the solution?

Subhashish Panigrahi, Program Officer at the Centre for Internet and Society, pointed that these issues don’t persis with web based solutions. “If we look at the Mozilla’s Firefox OS and the $25 phone, it addresses all of the issues that we’ve discussed. If you look at solutions that are based on web based technologies, it is easy to change things using HTML5. The web technolgoes don’t have issues of UTF-8 and other OS. It’s an easy to download and light weight OS that is web based.”

Shwetank Dixit, from Opera India, pointed out the limitation of “making apps for each and every kind of OS,” adding that “You may make an application, and any kind of Android phone will have a browser and the ability to connect to the web.”

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shwetank-dixit-santosh-dawara

Dixit emphasised the role of design and typography. “If you look at Latin based languages, there are different kinds of fonts available, which gives control to a designer. When it comes to a little bit of a tech angle – actual indic languages on the web, it really took off when we had the ability to add custom fonts on the web. before that we had to install fonts. With CSS3, you don’t need to do anything. On typography, a lot of stuff needs to be done, especially letter spacing in devnagari (for Hindi) or Gurmukhi (for Punjabi). If you increase letter spacing, should the line above the text be there or not?”

Should the Indian government mandate Indic languages for handsets?

vinuthaVinutha Mallya of Booksy.in mentioned that Amazon is today considering providing Indic language support only after they have come in. “Kindles were selling, but there was no need. We are not developing these mass devices ourselves. We’re adopting them. We’ll have to ask for these languages to come in with that. Or we need to start developing, so that we don’t have to ask someone to give us our language.”

MediaNama readers might recall that Bangladesh was considering mandating Bangla keypads for imported handsets back in 2011. Should India consider doing that? Virani reminded us that “When Micromax and XOLO sell in Bangladesh, they come to us and say that they want Bengali”, when they’re shipping to Bangladesh. “That is tied to the business case for handset vendors. They are making a business case for every device, about whether the Rs 15,000 device buyer will care for Indic languages. It makes sense to invest in filling that gap. If we’re able to move to an environment where manufacturers will have an incentive”

Santosh Dawara of Tinker Tech (dubzer), said that we need intelligent defaults on Mobile, and for the entire customer lifecycle experience to be in Hindi. “We are talkig about a proper Hindi phone. Can you market it to the emerging class that is ready to buy a smartphone?”

Dixit added that the Indian government is working on mandation of Indic languages. “We will probably have something ready by late this year or next year. The main thing right now is in the SMS standard. We want a reasonable amount of text in all indian languages sent through the same restrictions that SMS has. I think CDAC is also working on this.”

More Keypads and Fonts

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purvi-shah– Standardization: The other challenge with language keyboards that an attendee pointed out is the lack of standardization of keypads (like in case of QWERTY for English). People will get confused if each manufacturer has a different layout.

– Documentation of fonts: Purvi Shah of Pratham Books asked about why there isn’t a central repository of fonts. “We haven’t found stable fonts in all the languages. Why isn’t their a central repository of fonts.”

– Different fonts for different use cases: Pani mentioned that fonts generally are proprietary. “The selection of fonts depends on the media that you are planning to use it. A publishing font is different from that for a device specification. “A font for print will not work well for digital. A font for PC will not work as well for a tablet or mobile.”

#NAMA Indic: The Digital Future of Indic Languages, was supported by Google India

Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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