Last month on 15th March 2012 at New Delhi, W3C India & IAMAI (Internet & Mobile Association of India) had organized an one day conference titled “Mobile Web Initiative in India”. I got invited to participate in one of the panel discussions on the day “Challenges of Indic Adoption on Mobile Web” covering on the Technology for enabling Indian Languages on Mobile Platform & Lack of standard interoperability.
The panel was moderated by Ms.Swaran Latha (W3C India Country Manager & Director & HoD for TDIL Programme of MC & IT of Government of India). The moderator covered in length the challenges in this area, what Govt. of India is doing to get all stakeholders on board in enabling Indian Languages, nudging them into place without any hard legislations. My good friend and the expert on this field Mr.Muthu Nedumaran from Murasu Systems (Malaysia) covered on the technologies that are now available including in iOS, Android (HTC Explorer) and recent BlackBerry OS. Mr.Sridhar of Akruti talked about the path that has been covered in last two decades in this field.
I myself talked on the need for educating and awareness building amongst the users & stakeholders on the possibility & business potential of enabling the Devices, OS and Apps for Indian Languages. India only has 5% of its population (say 40 Million of the 800 Million Mobile users) who know to read & write English, what about the 95% they are not using SMS or even Address book?. There is an urgent need for the industry to educate the users that using Mobile doesn’t mean learning English & poor communication. I have seen that most of the time the Device OEM’s Engineering & Head Office (say in US, Europe, Japan or Taiwan) is ready to do Indian Languages (when they do tens of languages worldwide this is routine to them), it is the Indian Marketing & Operations office that throws the spanner. They sit in their glass offices in Gurgaon & Bangalore and think everyone in India speaks English including Drivers, Maids, Cooks & Factory workers. By doing this they are not only killing our languages (but most of Indian Languages are classical languages surviving over thousands of years of external invasion), but also depriving the productivity & economic advantage that better communication through Mobile enables for common man (Aam Aadmi).
There is no cost reasoning today for not doing Indian Language support today in Mobile Devices (it costs less than 50 US cents per device and falls to zero when you go to millions of units). Today Indian Languages is supported in major Mobile OSes – iOS (Display & input through Apps), Android through OEM software from HTC or Samsung has full support and Blackberry through add-on install. Even Nokia Symbian OS has support enabled in their lost cost devices. Only Microsoft Windows Phone 7.x doesn’t have any kind of Indian Language support, it is sad because Microsoft was the first major OS vendor in PCs to fully support many of the Indian Languages way back from Windows 2000. Hopefully the next version of Windows Phone (WP8) having an unified Kernel with Desktop Windows (Disclaimer: Nothing official yet from Microsoft, but rumoured here) will start supporting Indian Languages.
Finally if the stakeholders can’t be convinced it is time for Parliament (and not individual State Assemblies) to come with laws requiring Indian Language support across the eco-system (Operator, SMS, Devices, OS & Apps) – *YES I said this, which is rare for someone like me who prefers lean and small Government & Compact Laws*.