New Delhi: A new virtual keyboard for mobile phones that aims to enable users to text quickly and conveniently is beginning to attract attention from telecom firms, venture capitalists and local mobile operators. Named “Panini Keypad” in tribute to the Sanskrit grammarian, the mobile phone software has been created by an Indian firm called Luna Ergonomics founded by Abhijit Bhattacharjee, previously an engineer with the?Indian Army.
Promoted as “clever texting” outside India, the so-called “statistical predictive texting” technology has been dubbed the “first ergonomic keypad for the mobile phone” by the UK-based Ergonomics Society.
Having “crunched” exhaustive content for particular languages, and using an indigenous algorithm, Bhattacharjee’s team has designed an interface that places characters in a 3x4 grid (mimicking the phone’s keypad) and displays them ergonomically from the top left (most used) to the bottom right (least used).
Depending on what a user types, the algorithm predicts the next list of characters in another 3x4 grid and so on. Because the interface displays one character per button, it facilitates “texting” for the visually impaired, and—owing to its ease-of-use—for technophobes as well.
Having created the “Panini Keypad” in 11 Indian and nine foreign languages, Luna Ergonomics hopes to bring about an “elegant shift” in mobile technology with a “fast, efficient and ergonomic” texting solution.
“India is home to more than 500 million mobile phone users, growing at 15%,” says Bhattacharjee. “In India many people don’t know English, hence texting becomes a challenge for them. Faster connections, mobile Internet, etc., won’t affect their lives directly. The challenge before us was to develop a texting technology that does not require knowledge of the English language. A technology that gives people the freedom to communicate in their own language, seamlessly.”
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The Devnagari script, used to write Hindi, has at least 70 characters—as is the case with most other Indian scripts. To print them on a keypad alongside the English character set and the digits is not a viable option. Besides, it takes multiple tapping, rather than one character per tap, to write, a daunting problem Bhattacharjee and his team claim to have cracked.
“Having mined languages extensively, our algorithm predicts subsequent characters, allowing for non-dictionary words which technologies like T9 do not,” he says.
T9 is a widely used predictive texting technology in India, which enables users to type faster in English. Other similar technologies include iTap (Motorola), SureType (RIM), Letterwise (Eatoni) and WordWise (Intelab’s Tauto).
“Although this technology will benefit handset manufacturers because they won’t have to clog the keypads with multi-lingual characters, the biggest beneficiary will be the telecom operators. Technologies such as 3G and 4G will make sense and will generate greater revenues for the operators only when the end-user is able to avail them,” says Bhattacharjee.
Only Java-enabled phones can run this software at the moment. Bhattacharjee and his team have come up with four different packages for different types of users, ranging from “Basic” for callers using low-end mobile phones to “Touch” for those using touch-screen mobile phones.
Luna Ergonomics is in talks with Finland-based mobile phone maker Nokia Oyj for integrating the software with its handsets.
After developing applications for foreign languages such as English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Russian, Hebrew, Swahili and Finnish, Bhattacharjee is currently working on developing software for Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
Panini Keypad was the winner of the Judge’s Choice Award at the Nokia Innovations 2009 contest for being among the top 10 mobile innovations in the category of emerging markets and mobile necessities.