Google eyes tie-ups with smartphone makers in India to install its Hindi keyboards on the devices

Internet search giant Google plans to tie up with smartphone makers in India to install its Hindi keyboards on the devices that will be sold to millions of users who know the language, the most widely spoken in the country.

The partnerships, which will be similar to the Indian Language Internet Alliance (ILIA) announced on Monday, will also allow the Hindi keyboard to be available through software updates on existing smartphones, making it easier for mobile phone users to type out emails and messages in the local language. "We're looking at setting up a similar alliance with OEMs (original equipment makers) where the Hindi keyboard can be installed as a standard keyboard across OEMs," Kapil Khosla, Google India's product lead, told ET. "Initial discussions are on."

At present, most smartphones have Hindi and language support but when typing out an e-mail or message, the keyboard remains in English, a barrier for users who aren't comfortable with the language.


About 71% of India's 924 million mobile phone users still use feature phones and are being increasingly wooed to shift to smartphones. A feature such as the Hindi keyboard may increase smartphone penetration in India through which most people would have their first Internet experience.

On Monday, Google announced the ILIA - a partnership with content makers and technology providers that will focus on bringing regional content to Internet users in India. It also launched a Hindi keyboard, voice search in Hindi and, a portal that will help users find Hindi-related content like such as websites, blogs, apps and videos.

"The biggest barrier for adoption of Internet in India now is language," said Rakesh Deshmukh, Co-Founder and CEO of Firstouch, one of ILIA's founding members. "A lot of people who want to use Internet prefer not to because they are intimidated by the use of English on these devices."

Google aims to change this and is likely to find a lot of takers in native language speaking rural areas who make up a large proportion of India's mobile phone users.

Khosla said smartphones which get Android L, the upcoming version of Google's operating system, would automatically have the Hindi keyboard installed on the devices.

Android One devices, which are backed by Google and sold by domestic handset vendors Micromax, Karbonn and Spice, along with Google Nexus and Motorola smartphones are likely to be the first ones to get the Android L operating system. Google is yet to announce the date for the update's availability in India.

"India is adding 5 million Internet users every month and all of them are on mobile. Our aim is to get 500 million users online by 2017," said Rajan Anandan, Vice President and MD of Google India.

Amit Singhal, Google's senior vice president of search, said the Internet giant's mission is to ensure the world's information is universally accessible, and this includes millions of users in India who are about to come online for the first time.

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