What’s a government department that doesn’t extend deadlines?*
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, has extended till October 1st 2017, the deadline by which all handsets manufactured, stored, sold and distributed in India have to support at least 3 Indian languages. The mandate as per the initial order (issued October 24th 2016) was to include at least 3 languages: English, Hindi and at lease one of the other 22 official Indian languages, and support reading of text in all these languages.
The order mandates the inclusion of the Indian language support standard “16350 : 2016 Enhanced inscript keyboard layout” for mobile phone specifications to “the Schedule of Electronics and Information Technology Goods (Requirement for Compulsory Registration) Order, 2012“. The order prohibits “manufacture, storage, sale and distribution of Goods which do not conform to the specific standards, and allows an “appropriate authority” or the person authorized by it to view secure compliance with the order. This allows inspection and search of premises, and seizure of goods. The standard specifies the character code-sets for representing Indian Languages and their scripts on digital medium. The standard covers code charts, characters and character names for 11 Indian scripts which cover all 22 official languages of India which are identical to ISO/IEC 10646 (Universal Coded Character Set).
Mandating Indian language capability for devices is perhaps the right decision: and even if it’s a bit late, it helps more than it hurts. Handset manufacturers have failed to provide adequate support to Indian languages, and a three or four years ago, forcing them to adopt Indian language capabilities would have made the Internet more accessible to the population that doesn’t understand the English script. It’s also not a substantially higher cost because we’ve now moved beyond the era of physical keyboards. Of course, with the growth that the Internet has seen in India in the past year, it’s beneficial for all in the ecosystem: incorporating Indic language capabilities will help sell more Internet connections, more smartphones and help increase Internet usage. Ideally, support for all 22 official languages should be there. A more detailed point of view here.
What’s missing, though, is an Indian language operating system that is widely available. It’s noteworthy that a Chinese company like Xiaomi had support for Indic languages while most major OEMs failed to provide it. In the past, Robosoft had tried an Indian language OS (our review from 2012 here). The company currently providing an Indic language OS is Indus OS, which supports Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Odia, Assamese, Punjabi, Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Marathi, and has an app store for Indic language apps (with Indic language search), text to speech in 9 different languages. It has partnerships with multiple handset providers, including Micromax, Karbonn and Celkon.
Also see, videos from our discussion on Indic languages in Delhi earlier this year:
*: Rhetorical question.