IN THE MAKING | THE VERNACULAR MOBILE

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With the government ruling in favour of a mandate that makes it compulsory for all mobile handsets to have at least one Indian official regional language apart from Hindi and English, about one billion people (who do not speak Hindi or English) are about to be connected digitally. Such a move is expected to cause a hike in the the cost of a mobile handset by 10%, but it is also a testimonial to the government’s plans of offering e-governance services. This will also include access to services such as healthcare, banking, education and governance.

To gain a deeper insight into the implications of such a move, we decided to speak to the good folks at Reverie Language Technologies, a Banglaore-based company that enables businesses to overcome the language hurdle by providing multilingual solutions. In fact, they had collaborated with MEITY (ministry of electronics and information technology) and the ICA (Indian Cellular Association) to contribute to the mandate.

Pakhi Bagai, head of communications, is quick to point out that 85%-90% mobile phone users in India use regional language and thus, this was move that was a long time-coming. However, the battle seems to be far from over. While this can be considered a solid first step towards a digital, cashless India, the most critical thing that needs to happen is that businesses need to start localising their content. “It is not a simple case of just translating the content’ says Pakhi while pointing to the nuances that need to be taken care of. “Most businesses currently start by making apps and solutions for English language users and then start localising their content thinking it will work, but it cannot because English language users have had exposure to the Internet and mobile phones for the last 7-8 years at least and are therefore mature users. The same is not true for local language users who will access digital content via mobile phones for the first time. The learning curve is very steep for them and very few businesses are trying to make it simple for them,” she says.

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However, it is not just businesses but also manufacturers who need to be educated on this change. The most common concern seems to be that a lot of phone memory will be required to add the languages but Pakhi informs us that language input and fonts require less than 100KB for feature phones and less than 5.5MB for smartphones.“We are working with chipset and mobile device manufacturers that wants to work with us to comply with the mandate,” she says.

The road-map ahead seems to be well-defined for business and users. Business need to start at making local language users aware that services are available in their language, which, in turn, will lead to increased transactions. For the government, promotion is necessary. They need to promote their services and educate citizens through their outreach and communication. Organisations like Reverie are an important cog in the wheel as they can work with businesses and government to smoothen this process of change and like any self-aware digital crusader, Pakhi and her team look forward to relishing the challenges that lie ahead of them. “We would like to be relevant to businesses and the government for their complete customer life-cycle journey and essential citizen services, respectively,” she says.

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