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DoT to mandate local language support in mobile phones soon

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The department of telecom (DoT) is planning to make it mandatory for mobile phones to support Hindi and at least one regional language within the next 3-4 months, reports Livemint. Through this new regulation, the DoT aims to allow users to communicate in local languages for accessing government services like e-payment through mobile phones.

A senior official from the DoT told PTI that to make Digital India a success, “broadband cannot be limited to English-speaking middle and upper class Indians and it needs to go down to rural areas”.

The regulation is also a part of the government’s programme called Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (Disha) scheme, which aims to widen IT literacy among the citizens, especially in the rural expanses. Besides IT literacy, the scheme will also educate and train citizens “to effectively access various e-governance services being offered by the government and other agencies”.

In December last year, the Indian Cellular Association elaborated some of the standards the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is working on. The standards include requiring a minimum of 4MB memory on all phones, out of which 2MB should be reserved for official Indian languages support. The devices should also support message readability in 14 scripts and 22 official languages, other than being able to support text input in English, Hindi and at least one other Indian language. The final standards will be published after consultations with the industry and other stakeholders.

With smartphone shipments expected to outgrow feature phone shipments by 2016, more first time users in India will lay their hands on smartphones; preloading local languages in their phones will be of huge advantage to them.

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Digital Indic language initiatives

IDC points out that one out of three smartphones shipped in India in Q3 FY2015 are 4G enabled, hence there is an impending need to add Indic language support to services offered online through apps, and mobile platforms.

Several Indic Language – support initiatives have been introduced in 2015 by many local companies like Snapdeal, Quikr, Hike, Khan Academy, among others, as well as foreign companies like Microsoft and Alibaba.

Some highlights include:

Indic keyboards apps including Swathanthra Malayalam Computing’s (SMC) app that supports a pool of Indian languages, as well as Swiftkey’s expected March update which will add 22 constitutional languages of India, are examples of Indic keyboard apps available for smartphone users.

Micromax’s effort to offer translation and transliteration services with messaging on its phones and also provide access to about 10,000 local language apps available on MoFirst’s App Bazaar.

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Spice Mobility’s launch of Hindi variant Android One smartphone called Spice Dream UNO; it was targeted at the Hindi speaking audience in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

The HRD Ministry’s effort to add 1 million digitized books and journals from 100 institutes in the National Digital Library, which includes books and journals in Sanskrit, Bengali, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu, other than English.

The year 2015 witnessed a large number of mobile and smartphone companies stepping up to provide local languages support, if the pace remains, we can expect a higher smartphone penetration.

Note that we had discussed the possibility of the Indian Government mandating Indic languages for all mobile handsets at #NAMAindic in 2014. The conference underscored the need for standards, documentation of fonts, and different fonts for different use cases. Read our Indic language wishlist for the Government. More on #NAMAindic here.

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