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Little-known Indian dialects to Chinese: Google adds 20 new languages to Gboard for Android

Spandan Sharma
7th Mar 2018
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Google’s Gboard has been around for nearly two years now. Replacing Google Keyboard on iOS in May 2016 and on Android in December 2016, the third-party keyboard from the search giant has become one of the most popular keyboard applications in the world. The app has received particular praise for its predictive typing algorithm, with reviewers stating that “it gets smarter with use”. One of the most loved features is Gboard’s huge breadth of language support, and this has expanded even further.

Various elements of the Gboard in action, including (L-R) emoji search, GIF search, and swipe typing. (Image: Flickr)

In a blog post yesterday, March 6, Angana Ghosh, Product Lead, Gboard announced that Google was adding support for 20 new languages to Gboard for Android, notably including Chinese (traditional and simplified) as well as Korean. These two languages had been among the most highly demanded languages on Android, prompting Google to include support for them in the latest update (the languages have been available for Gboard on iOS since mid-2017). The new additions now bring the tally of languages supported on Gboard for Android to over 300, covering 74 percent of the world’s population, according to Angana’s blog post.

Significantly, the latest update also extends support beyond widely spoken languages, with new hyperlocal dialects also being supported. Of particular note is support for hyper-regional Indian languages Dhundhari, spoken in the Dhundhar region of Rajasthan by about 9.6 million (as of 2007); Harauti, spoken by about 4.7 million people in the Hadoti region of Rajasthan (as of 2001); the Kangri dialect, spoken by about 1.1 million people in various districts of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab (as of 2001); Lambadi (both Devanagari and Telugu scripts) spoken by about 6 million people across parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Telangana (as of 2004); Malvi, spoken by about 5.6 million people in Madhya Pradesh (as of 2001); and Nimadi, spoken by about 2.2 million in Madhya Pradesh (as of 2001). Other languages added in the new update are Balochi, Central Bikol, Bislama, Chittagonian, Cree, Kongo, Ndonga, Southern Ndebele, Rusyn, Samogitian, Sardinian, Tswana, and Tongan.

Google’s focus on languages spoken beyond Tier I and Tier II urban markets corresponds with its push to capture emerging markets beyond the metropolises of the world. The company has been creating low-bandwidth versions of several of its apps, such as YouTube Go, Gmail Go, Files Go, Google Go, Google Maps Go, Google Assistant Go, etc. alongside pushing its new Android Go OS for consumers at the lower end of the tech spectrum. By creating functionality that lets users interact with these apps in their native tongues, Google is likely hoping to convert them into loyal customers who’ll buy into an ecosystem of apps that work offline, have low power consumption, and don’t necessarily require strong network coverage.

Google yesterday also announced added integration of its search functionality in the Messages app for iOS, marking another step in its attempts to push Gboard at a time when generally speaking, support for third-party keyboards has been dwindling. The one-two combo for Gboard is likely a sign of continuing investment in the application’s future, particularly as Google attempts to use it as a gateway to the company’s larger search and translation offerings.

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