Breaking language barriers on mobile phones
Luna Egronomics, the company behind the innovation, Panini Keypad, has enabled its clients to type and send messages directly in their native language, using even a basic, under Rs 2000 phone.
The virtual keypad can either be downloaded to the phone from the company website or taken as a service through a value card. Once it is installed, they can begin the typing by using the phone keyboard to follow the character prompts appearing on the screen.
lthough the keypad can work for any world language, the big benefits in this are for the Indians. Several of them who do not know English have now their first real chance to take a shy at texting!
"There are close to 650 million mobile connections in India. However, only 90 million users know English," says company CEO Abhijit Bhattacharjee.
"For the remaining majority, services such as sms and email make no sense, because, to use them people need to have at least a working knowledge of English."
Currently, the best language products for phones require the users to first form the words of the native script using English letters. It means that to write `grapes` in Hindi, they have perforce to type `Angoor` in English first.
The products work on the assumption that the users know English!
Technology watchers are, of course, much excited with the Panini innovation. Mita Das, one of the members on the panel that picked it up for the 2011 TiE50 world award, is celebrating.
"Though Indian languages are widely spoken, not a single Indian language makes it to the most-widely used languages in the mobile texting world. This is mainly due to the challenges of entering text on a mobile handset that is really not made for the Indian languages."
There are, of course, other related problems too that Panini solves.
Currently, even in the few available bi-language phones, it is a tough task to type. Users have to tap several times on each key to get the right letter in place. This problem is circumvented by the Panini`s support function called Clever Texting, which statistically lends intelligence to the character prompts on the screen.
When users try to write, the desired character intuitively jump on to the screen, as if it were being read off the users` mind! And it is always accurate – quite unlike the experience that users have while using character prompters that are dictionary based!
Users, no doubt, are at an advantage here, but with Panini it is also equal advantage to the phone makers. They can now cluster and market language choices as part of their phone offering to their customers. That is no mean business as far as the manufacturers are concerned.
Raju Sastry, head of consumer and business messaging at Nokia India, explains the ground position.
"Of the 1.12 billion people of India, 70 per cent live in rural areas. That is more than 700 million people spread around 6,27,000 villages. While the penetration levels in urban centers… range between 50 per cent to over 100 per cent, the rural penetration ranges from a maximum of 32 per cent to under 4 per cent. The rural market provides tremendous opportunity."
And just about anyone would agree that when it is about reaching out to rural India, the language had better be right!