Microsoft has announced, in a blog post, the release of of a new phonetic keyboard that supports 10 Indian languages. Part of its May 2019 update of Windows 10, the phonetic keyboard is available in Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Odia, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Microsoft said that before this, Indic language users had to buy customised Indic hardware keyboards or stickers, or download Microsoft Indic Language Input Tool or a third-party tool.

The new keyboards are phonetic, meaning users will enter text in Latin characters, which will be transliterated into the appropriate language. For example, if a user types ‘Bharat’ in Latin characters, the keyboard will transliterate final output to भारत (Hindi), ভারত (Bengali), ભારત (Gujarati) or ਭਾਰਤ (Punjabi) depending on the target language. Microsoft said it expects the new tools to improve typing speed and accuracy in Indian languages by at least 20%, and make many regional symbols (such as Indian numerals) easier to input. It added that the new keyboard layouts will work with any Unicode-enabled applications and web browsers running on Windows 10. Unicode is a common text encoding standard used for most languages of the world.

India-specific rollouts by Google and Apple

Over the past two years, major tech firms have rolled out many features to cater specifically to the Indian market. Here are a few:

  • Google launched its keyboard Gboard in 22 Indian languages in 2017. The languages supported include Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
  • Google also launched three India-first features in the new update of Google Maps in June, targeted at users of public transport. With the update, users in India can now see bus travel times from live traffic in 10 of the largest cities, get live train status for Indian Railways trains, and get commute suggestions that combine auto-rickshaws and public transport.

Read: Google Maps launches 3 India-first features, including accurate bus timings, real-time train status

  • Apple announced at its WWDC 2019 conference that the new version of iOS, iOS13, will bring support for all 22 official Indian languages. Users can specify during the setup if they speak more than one language, and the phone will tune keyboard, dictation languages, and preferred languages accordingly. Of the 22 languages, 15 were new additions, including Assamese, Bodo, Dogri, Kashmiri, Konkani, Manipuri, Maithili, Nepali, Sanskrit, Sanskrit and Sindhi.
  • The upcoming version of iOS, which will ship to a range of iPhone handsets later this year, also includes four new system fonts in Indian languages: Gurmukhi, Kannada, Odia, and Gujarati. These will “help deliver greater clarity and ease when reading in apps like Safari, typing in Messages and Mail, or swiping through Contacts,” the company said in a statement.
  • Apple’s Siri voice assistant will also offer Indian English male and female voices on iPhones and iPads. Earlier, Siri had male and female voices and could only speak in American, Australian, British, Irish and South African accents.

Read: Apple WWDC 2019: new Indic language and India specific features in iOS 13 and iPadOS