India has emerged as the 3rd largest smartphone market in the world. According to a latest report by IAMAI and KPMG, number of smartphone users will reach 236 Mn in 2016 and 314 Mn in 2017. Interestingly, of the total smartphone user base, 50% are mobile only Internet users. This present a huge opportunity to companies who are looking to tap mobile Internet users, but the challenge to convert these users into consumers of their products lies in reaching out to them in their language. A good start has been made with big companies like Snapdeal, Quikr, HDFC, Micromax, Intex launching their products and services in local languages too. There is a clear business case for these companies to do so – a direct impact on their bottom-line. Today, going multi-lingual is no more a novelty feature; it’s fast becoming a part of companies’ expansion and business strategy.
A big credit for bringing about this change also goes to the government, which has time and again laid emphasis on local language, enabled Internet. Under ‘Digital India’, there is a clear focus on providing government citizen services in local languages. The latest announcement by Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) to make multi-lingual support mandatory for all smartphones sold in India could really be an inflection point in bridging the language divide on the Internet.
This move has the potential to fast track and even determine, success of various governance initiatives in the field of utilities and services like education, health, licenses as only 10% of Indians are comfortable transacting in English language.
For our industry, this would provide boost to the innovations that are currently underway to help businesses go multi-lingual within matter of hours and days.
At Reverie, we believe that local language Internet is an idea whose time has come. Small steps have made a difference by way of bringing more people online. Such positive announcements from the government will ensure more startups launching business in local language technology segment, more investors putting their money in such companies, more companies seriously considering and launching their services in multi lingual format. All these developments will only expand this business segment for the better of consumers who were till now given substandard local language features on their mobile phones.
The true potential of Internet lies in the fact that users accessing Internet via their smartphones or desktops would be able to do so without any dependence on English. That’s the dream my team and me is working towards. Even now, a large set of users with smartphones use their gadget for voice and video, they are waiting for local language enabled internet to reach them in a way where when they launch a browser or open a social media app, not knowing English shouldn’t become a handicap. Though, we are far from that Holy Grail moment but with the awareness increasing in the ecosystem, it doesn’t look like a distant dream. I have a dream of seeing a complete local language Internet where a user can type in website address in their language, surf, make a buying decision and makes payment in his preferred language.
We look at this problem from 3 angles. Local language software or solutions should be able to help customers to three basic things
- Read and write effortlessly in their preferred languages
- Search for content/products on websites or portals
- Transliterate words from English to their language without losing its meaning or context.
Many argue that this is a technology problem and that well-written software can address the language divide. However, we, at Reverie, look at it as a user experience problem. We believe that a non-English user deserves to be given the same variety and treatment as an English user while he is surfing or writing or posting using local language software. Our multi-lingual keypad Swalekh was born out of this need. This keypad enables users to not only write in their preferred language but switch to multiple language effortlessly while typing the same message. There is also a mode in which users who may speak a particular language but may not know the script of it can also type in that language. They key in their message using an English keyboard and it automatically gets translated in their preferred language. The predictive text typing support provided in this app is best in class.
In conclusion, I would like to congratulate DeitY for announcing such an impactful move. This will surely accelerate not just the Internet users growth in our country, which is already fastest growing in the world but also how richly these users use the Internet. Digital India is a step in the right direction. I believe we have the right decision makers in power who have realized that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and are taking steps to ensure that every Indian citizen who wants to be connected on the Internet should have the power to surf, read, post and share as per his preference and not the companies decided for him.