The Indic Project, which belongs to the Indian non-profit Swathanthra Malayalam Computing (SMC), has released a new and significantly upgraded version of its input app “Indic Keyboard” for the Android mobile operating system. This major update comes roughly one year after the app's initial release in March 2014.
Indic Keyboard now supports 22 Asian languages, including 18 Indian languages apart from English, and 54 input layouts. The 23 supported languages are Assamese, Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Manipuri, Maithili, Marathi, Mon, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. On its company blog, SMC lists the various features included in the new update:
- Addition of 7 new languages and several new layouts.
- We now support 23 languages and 54 layouts in total.
- All new Setup wizard makes it simpler for you to get started.
- Material design, ability to changes themes.
- Material white, Material dark, Holo blue and Holo white themes are available.
- Intelligent word suggestion for transliteration – type faster with fewer keystrokes.
- For languages with complex letters we now have the ability to type ZWJ and ZWNJ characters directly.
- Arabic keyboard – by popular demand.
- Code base is updated to support Android Lollipop edition.
- A number of bug fixes (e.g. 1 and 2).
So far, the updated keyboard is enjoying a warm response from users:
20,000 people upgraded Indic Keyboard in first 2 days after its new release.
— Jishnu (@jishnu7) May 30, 2015
— Karthik Subramanian (@chennaikat) May 29, 2015
One commenter writes:
Vernacular computing is a blocker for the complete roll out of computers and Internet to the world. Projects like these are welcome patches to fix that issue.
Typing on touch-screens can be rethought. Especially when it comes to Indic languages which have about double the number of characters compared to English. We shouldn’t constrain our minds to think in traditional layouts. Transliteration is a very good idea. But it puts the dependency back on English. We need radicalize the input methods for non-English languages and avoid the dependence of English altogether.
Anivar Aravind, Executive Director of Indic Project at SMC, and Jishnu Mohan, a Project Administrator at SMC, recently sat down with Rising Voices to discuss the updated app.
Rising Voices (RV): What was the objective behind bringing this mobile app for Indian languages? What has been Indic Project's core motivation?
Anivar Aravind (AA): Indic project focuses on community powered Research and Development of free and open source Indian language information infrastructure for majority of India that does not speak English. “It is pretty clear that unlike most other countries, India will be a “mobile-first” country because the first computing device for most Indians will be the mobile and not the PC.
RV: Why you think language display and input are important for Indian users?
AA: Unavailability of Indian Language interfaces, keyboards and fonts limits freedom of expression of people in their native languages and prevents them from tapping the full potential offered by smart phones and Internet. We believe all mobile users must able to read and write in their native language using their choice of layout. Indic Keyboard is coming as a part of our effort for digital inclusion on the mobile frontier.
RV: What is the reach of the app at this moment?
AA: Indic Keyboard received good user base of 168K+ downloads so far, primarily based on user reviews, without any advertisements and promotions.
RV: Can you share how Indic Keyboard was conceived and has grown?
AA: Indic Keyboard was started as a personal project by Malayalam-language computing advocate and developer Jishnu Mohan in 2013, is later upscaled into a community project collecting Indian language layouts suitable for mobile devices, updated and maintained by the free and open source community.
RV: Jishnu, as the core developer on this project, can you tell us how you overcame major roadblocks while designing Indic Keyboard?
Jishnu Mohan (JM): Absence of fonts in Android operating system was the major roadblock in increasing the language coverage. Android 4.4 supported only few Indian scripts, but some vendors like Samsung included more Indian language scripts. So we decided to go with 16 language support in Indic Keyboard 1.0 version last year. Since Android 5.1 has increased script coverage, we were able to support more languages in this 2.0 release.
RV: What were the other major challenges you faced, Anivar?
AA: The initial challenges of bringing a mobile input layout were many; from building dictionaries to the user interface. Google's Android Open Source Project (AOS) was used as a base for building this app where the keyboards that were integrated came from various sources. Keyboard layouts are not copyrighted and this was very useful for us to use a popular layout like Tamil99 for Tamil or another popular layout like Lekhani that was developed by the Odia Wikimedia community.
Happy to see Script support for Odiya , Saurashtra , Meetri Mayek, Lepcha, Limbu, Ol chikki (Santhali), Sylheti Nagari In Android 5.1
— indicproject (@indicproject) March 15, 2015
RV: How was Indic Project started and what have been its major accomplishments, so far?
AA: During 2005-2008 major ground work was done for localization support in Indic languages and overall improvement of communication using Indian languages. By 2009 web based technology were became our focus which oriented towards building and improving mobile applications for more users reading and writing in their native Indian languages. The project upscaling and 1.0 release of project was part of with the SMC-ICFOSS collaboration as a part of Department of Telecommunications (DIT) Android R & D Project of the Government of India. The project also received another grant from ICFOSS via Government of Kerala's Malayalam Computing project.
RV: What can you tell us about your work in policy-level lobbying and negotiations?
AA: We have done some work in policy front and recently submitted a policy brief requesting the government to mandate the inclusion of at least one Indian language font and one keyboard layout of all 22 official languages recognized as per 8th schedule of the Indian constitution in all smart phones and tablets selling in India.
RV: How did you reach so many users? What are your future promotion plans?
AA: The most important reason why Indic Keyboard reached out to 200k users with over 100k downloads is because of it not bringing up new keyboard layouts where as almost all other mobile input apps have their own proprietary layouts that users take time to learn and use.
RV: What are the difficulties of reaching out to masses of people?
AA: Many of the layouts were already popular and it was an added benefit for the primarily targeting people who know about inputting in their languages. Partnerships with mobile manufacturers and integrators this year for adoption of these keyboards. So users can get Indian language experience via vendor firmware itself without any extra download. Indic Keyboard liberated Indian language input in mobile devices and we want to port the same experience to all emerging mobile platforms.
RV: Are there any final comments or bit of information you'd like to share?
AA: Continuing research and development in this domain including ability to download of dictionaries for user preferred languages, increasing coverage to all 22 official languages in India, developing an free software library for gesture typing and building support for predictive input will be our main focus in the future.
As a promoter and developer of free and open source language technology, SMC plans to focus more on cross-platform mobile input-library-building and policy-level adoption for language input and other language technology advancements in the near future. SMC says it's currently in talks with the Indian government about mandating native keyboards on smart phones.