Monday, November 18, 2013

Touchscreen keyboards for African languages?

Who's doing what with touchscreen (virtual) keyboards for African languages? Although not a big fan of them for my personal use, I've long recognized that in principle they offer the potential to bypass the obvious limitations of physical computer keyboards - with their fixed number of keys - for layouts supporting various extended Latin character sets. This is important for a number of major languages of West and Central Africa whose orthographies include extended characters.

It was a friend's recent mention of someone else's mention of developing a Hausa keyboard for Nuance Swype that has me trying to get up to speed on where virtual keyboards for touchscreens are now, with particular reference to African languages.

If your keyboard is basically an interactive picture, then it would seem to offer the potential to modify and modestly expand to accommodate different alphabets such that of Hausa (adding rather than substituting keys would be easier on a larger screen of course - tablet rather than smartphone). Has this been done for African languages (other than Arabic, which benefits in terms of computer support from its wide international usage)?

Putting the question regarding Hausa - with additional reference to Apple touchscreen keyboards - to the old Hausa charsets & keyboards forum got helpful replies from Tom Gewecke (whose Multilingual Mac blog is an excellent source of info on iOS as well as Mac for diverse languages). Seems that iPhone and iPad support for a language like Hausa that is written with extended Latin (leaving aside the question of Ajami for another post) requires apps, and then cutting and pasting to use what one produces with them into whatever one is working on (email, document).

But there's lot's more going on with touchscreen keyboards. Looking for more information on Swype (which claims support for 70+ languages), I'm coming across mention of a number of other touchscreen keyboards and character selection apps. This is a question I plan to come back to but would appreciate any information from others.

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