Centre for Internet & Society

When Google launches its low-cost Android One devices next Monday, Indian users will be able to give voice commands, type messages and use almost all major mobile applications in Hindi.

The article by Varun Aggarwal was published in the Economic Times on September 11, 2014. Sunil Abraham gave his inputs.

This is because the California, US based internet giant is hoping that the devices, which have been tailor-made for emerging markets, will help it capture the non-English speaking user base in the country.

Over 40 per cent of the population in India lists Hindi as its first language. Android One will come bundled with local language support and users will not have to download any external application to access their smartphone in Hindi, a person with knowledge of the development told ET.

"Google has been constantly working on developing more salience around Indic computing, providing regional language support to users for its various products and services," a Google spokesman said in an email. Internet users in India could increase by nearly a fourth if local language content is provided, according to a 2014 report from Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB International.

In rural India, 43 per cent said they would adopt the Internet if they had content in their local language. Local language consumption growth is estimated to be more than four times that of English, according to Google. The company is trying to take a lead over its competitors by taking advantage of this trend.

Google is working to create more Hindi content online through local partnerships and is expected to launch more products keeping the Indic audience in mind.

"So far different vendors were offering different ingredients of the Indian language meal and users were expected to cook it themselves," said Venkatesh Hariharan, founder of Alchemy Business Solutions, a company which works on Indic computing and technology for development.

"If Google offers a comprehensive experience that works out-of-the-box in Indian languages that could attract millions of new users." Indic computing has so far been limited to enthusiasts who had to download a keyboard from one site, a local language dictionary from another and fonts from a third.

"If we really want widespread adoption, then using a mobile phone in Indian languages should be as easy as using it in English," Hariharan said. This is what Google hopes to achieve by introducing devices in partnership with Indian handset makers Micromax, Spice and Karbonn, which will launch the Android One devices for Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000 next week.

The availability of such devices will also help internet companies such as Facebook and Yahoo promote their products in Indian languages. Facebook currently supports 13 Indian languages. "We are focused on enabling all major Indic languages and on actively promoting them on various platforms," a Facebook spokesperson said.

On the other hand, Yahoo shifted its multilingual support from websites to only mobile apps. For instance, the Yahoo Mail mobile app supports eight Indian languages.

"We can confirm we recently closed down the Indian language sites to better focus on our core offerings," a Yahoo representative said. While experts welcomed Google's push towards Hindi, some want the technologies to be open source.

"Now you'll have some people who will specialise on building Indic computing tools on Google and others doing the same on some other platform," said Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bangalore based research organisation, The Centre for Internet and Society. "At least Google, which seems to have understood and taken advantage of free software, should give back to the free software movement."

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