‘Marsh­mal­low’ has Urdu sup­port

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In what may turn out to be an im­por­tant break­through for Pak­istan’s In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tech­nol­ogy (ICT) sec­tor, the An­droid 6.0 Marsh­mal­low – the lat­est ver­sion of Google’s smart­phone op­er­at­ing sys­tem – comes with sup­port for the Urdu lan­guage.

Ear­lier in Septem­ber last year, the Sil­i­con Val­ley­based tech­nol­ogy gi­ant un­veiled two of its new ‘Nexus’ smart­phones – the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P along with An­droid 6.0.

The new ver­sion comes with ma­jor im­prove­ments and new fea­tures com­pared to An­droid Lol­lipop 5.0, its pre­de­ces­sor. Among other ad­di­tions, the lat­est ver­sion brings sup­port for Gu­jarati and Urdu lan­guages.

This is the first ver­sion that would al­low An­droid smart­phone users to op­er­ate their phones in Urdu.

“With An­droid sup­port­ing Urdu, the in­ter­net is go­ing to the bot­tom of the pyra­mid to the peo­ple who read and write and un­der­stand only in Urdu,” said Badar Khush­nood, Google’s for­mer coun­try rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Pak­istan.

He said it was an im­por­tant break­through from the so­cio-eco­nomic point of view as a vast ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion was more com­fort­able with Urdu.

With ris­ing In­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion and free-ac­cess-to-In­ter­net projects, the lat­est op­er­at­ing sys­tem will con­nect more peo­ple who will be able to cre­ate con­tent in Urdu. This would, as a re­sult, spur growth of lo­cal con­tent and the de­mand for Urdu lit­er­a­ture and other con­tent read­ily avail­able in lo­cal lan­guages.

Still in the 10% range, the coun­try’s In­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion is on the rise. Since the roll­out of third­gen­er­a­tion (3G) mo­bile tech­nol­ogy, which started in mid2014, Pak­istan has been adding more than one mil­lion new users to its mo­bile In­ter­net base ev­ery month – the num­ber of broad­band users in the coun­try sky­rock­eted to 23 mil­lion at the end of Oc­to­ber, 2015, up from less than 4 mil­lion be­fore 3G auc­tion.

“When it comes to con­tent, lan­guage does make a dif­fer­ence,” says A R Rafiq, who runs a soft­ware de­vel­op­ment com­pany and is ac­tively in­volved with the Pak­istan Soft­ware Houses As­so­ci­a­tion (P@SHA) for IT and IT-en­abled ser­vices.

The en­tre­pre­neur from Sil­i­con Val­ley says this new fea­ture would help stream­line the process of de­vel­op­ment as more apps could be de­vel­oped in Urdu – one of the top five most-spo­ken lan­guages. “It will sup­port de­vel­op­ers and con­tent cre­ators who pre­fer Urdu,” he says.

Just to re­call, Urdu con­tent is al­ready avail­able in the coun­try but it is largely in im­age for­mat mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to search.

“The Urdu con­tent is usu­ally not search­able be­cause of its im­age for­mat,” says Khush­nood. With An­droid’s sup­port for Urdu, the con­tent will be avail­able in Uni­code Trans­for­ma­tion For­mat, the in­ter­na­tional stan­dard for char­ac­ter en­cod­ings.

There will be mainly two ad­van­tages, ac­cord­ing to Khush­nood. Users will have a good Urdu font, which was not there be­fore be­cause it was not web friendly. Se­condly, the con­tent will be­come more search­able just like the English con­tent, which can be searched with ease. It will be avail­able in ac­tual em­bed­ded form with copy and paste op­tions that would make it ed­itable.

He said the next step would be the Speech Recog­ni­tion Stage. For ex­am­ple, YouTube trans­lates speech into text in many lan­guages but the op­tion is not avail­able in Urdu, he said.

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