Another day, another deadline extended. The DoT extended the deadline for making all handsets in India Indic language capable to 1st February 2018. The order was issued just two days before the previous deadline of October 1st 2017, and the reason for the extension remains the same: the inability (or unwillingness) of handset manufacturers to comply with the order. The order states that “mobile handset manufacturers have raised concerns with regard to compliance to the Order”. The MEITY needs time to “address these issues and to facilitate the industry for smooth implementation of the Order”.
The initial order mandates that:
- All handsets manufactured, stored, sold and distributed in India have to support at least 3 Indian languages: English, Hindi and at lease one of the other 22 official Indian languages, and support reading of text in all these languages.
- The inclusion of the Indian language support standard “16350 : 2016 Enhanced in-script 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).
Historically, handset manufacturers have failed to provide adequate support to Indian languages, and this limited accessibility to the Internet via mobile devices to those who knew at least some English.
While mandating Indian language capability for devices is, in our opinion, the right decision, it might perhaps be mandated specifically for smartphones for the time being, and a separate deadline may be set for feature-phones. That should spur a move for smartphone manufacturers to ensure that their operating systems support Indian languages.
There is a transition taking place in India from feature phones to smart phones, and while it is by no means as swift as it should be, it’s perhaps easier to start with smart phones.
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.