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Updated: March 12, 2012 13:31 IST

Initiative to standardise virtual keyboards

T. Ramachandran
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Working group set up to develop standard for Indic languages

An initiative has been launched under the aegis of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to standardise virtual or touch-screen keyboards in Indian languages for use in smart phones and tablet computers.

A new working group, approved by the IEEE Standards Association, began functioning towards the end of January ( with a mandate to develop a virtual keyboard standard for Indic languages. The IEEE is a global not-for-profit professional body involved in formulating technical standards, among other things.

Efficient and user-friendly virtual keyboards in Indian languages have become all the more necessary, given the pace at which smart phones are becoming an important part of everyday life. The use of tablet computers is also fast gaining ground. The touch screen is the main interface on these devices and the keyboards are virtual ones, displaying the characters as required.

Despite a measure of support available for the use of Indian languages on smart phones, the input schemes and keyboards have not been standardised. “While Indian language rendering is supported by a few vendors, input methods have not been a high priority even for them. Virtual keyboard support for iOS (the Apple operating system) and Android-based phones is provided through a few free and paid apps. There is a potential for fragmentation of these input methods, hence the urgent need for this standardisation attempt,” said Arjuna Rao Chavala, chair of the working group.

Conventional or physical Indian language keyboards are known to have a steep learning curve. The InScript keyboard, whose development has been spearheaded by the government and its agencies, is the most widely adopted one among them. The learning difficulty partly arises from adapting the standard English keyboard (called QWERTY after the first row of letters on it) for Indian language use, despite the differences between the scripts. Text input in Indian languages is complex partly because of the ‘extra' effort required in terms of key inputs to produce the various syllable combinations. The sheer number of consonants, vowel and vowel signs and the manner in which letters can be joined together, called conjuncts, also adds to the complexity. This keyboard layout cannot be ideally adapted to a virtual touch-screen environment owing to screen resolution limitations and technical reasons, experts say.

Phonetic or transliteration keyboards, which use English inputs to generate the phonetic equivalent in the corresponding Indian language, are easier to use. But they might require more keystrokes than the InScript keyboard, Mr. Chavala said, citing a study.

Virtual keyboards might make the input effort easier because of the flexibility possible in the display of each Indian language alphabet. “Display of Indian language alphabets will take away the first hurdle of lack of visual correspondence when typing Indian languages. The keyboard layout standardisation will help users so that they can learn once and continue to use the skill without problem, even when they change their smart phones or move to alternate computing devices like tablets,” he explained.

The aim is to make the virtual keyboards as intuitive to use as possible with respect to the layout of the keys. “It may look different from the InScript or phonetic keyboards but users should not have a problem getting used to it,” Mr. Chavala said.

The time taken to formulate the standard would depend on the contribution of volunteer members of the working group, with the IEEE allowing for a period of up to four years for finalising it. But Mr. Chavala said it would be good to have the standard drafted in one year and released three-six months thereafter to keep it relevant and in tune with industry developments. This initiative has attracted considerable global interest, especially among those focussing on Indian language computing. The group includes members affiliated to industry, the government, semi-public research institutions, academia and also individuals.

very good, it's very useful to me, thank you very much!

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Posted on: Apr 22, 2012 at 23:59 IST

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from:  Sylviajuz
Posted on: Mar 14, 2012 at 05:13 IST

Is Sanskrit mother language? Whose mother language?
We have to protect two Indian Classical languages Tamil and Sanskrit, no doubt about that. No other countries on earth has two classical languages. It is a great privilege for Indian. But not mixing Sanskrit into Tamil....

from:  AR.Muthu
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 20:32 IST

Language and script are two different things. Most of the spoken languages (that
have grammar, literature, poetry and history) of Bharat are based on Sanskrit. On
the other hand there are three major scripts, Brahmi, Kadamba and Devanagari, for
Sanskrit based languages. Brahmi is an ancient script that is not in use in modern
times. Devanagari is used for most of the Gangetic and Indus valley languages.
Kadamba is used for peninsular languages like Kannada, Telugu, Konkani, Tulu

It seems logical that we should try to develop at least two standardized key
boards, one for Devanagari and one for Kadamba. That should covert about 80% of
all users and will be a great starting point.

The scripts of Malayalam and Tamil are very similar and have their own key board.
There is no hard and fast rule that there must be 26 keys. Languages of Bharat
may need more keys.

from:  AP Kumar
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 19:14 IST

A Common Virtual Keyboard is possible for Indic languages, only and only
if COMMON TAMIL SCRIPT for all Indian languages is adopted, which i have
proposed to GOI and UNICODE, using only 364 common characters

from:  A.R.Amaithi Anantham
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 16:34 IST

to improve the laptop technology as best as we like.

from:  Rajasekhar
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 12:43 IST

Good effort. It will greatly boost the use of computers with common people. There are
already too many (non-standard) ways to write Indian languages and often various operating
systems omit them as there is no standard. Whereas Chinese and Japanese have been
represented without fail.

from:  Senthil Natarajan
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 09:39 IST

I welcome the initiative to standardise indic lanuages virtual keyboards for smart phones and tablet computers. The effort should cover all major Indic languages (about 10 will do) including Samskrut in devanagari script and Tamil in Grantha lipi script. Can I contribute something to the effort?

from:  K.S.Vedachalam.
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 08:37 IST

Good move. keyboard in Indian languages would be a great idea. it
will provide more room for these languages to survive. this should
have been done long before . for the lack of such facilities our
languages are dying where as English is adding hundreds of words each
time. in order to protect Sanskrit ( the mother language) govt should
take initiative to have keyboard in Sanskrit. mere commercial reasons
should not be the criteria to have touchscreen keyboards for phones
or iPad.

from:  sharma covina ca
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 00:55 IST
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