Hewlett-Packard researchers based in India demonstrated on Monday several new technologies aimed at the unique computing demands of developing markets such as India, from typing complex languages to authenticating paper documents.
As incomes rise in India, more consumers will be able to afford computing products, said Ajay Gupta, director of HP Laboratories India in Bangalore. But those products must be both inexpensive and functional, posing an engineering challenge for software and hardware manufacturers eager for new markets.
Governments will be a large share of the computing market, seeking to use IT to augment educational systems and simplify data collection tasks such as census surveys.
One promising application is paper-based document authentication. Physical documents are a mainstay in developing countries, but authenticating papers such as loan applications and university certificates is difficult.
HP has developed a two-dimensional bar code containing a document’s text in encrypted form. The bar code is machine-readable, running along one side of the document. When the document is scanned, the data is decoded, and it can be positively confirmed, Gupta said.
The technology is intended to provide a secure way to issue documents that are printed from Internet cafes in rural areas lacking a notary, HP said.
Another stumbling point has been the difficulty of adapting English-centered QWERTY keyboards to complex Indian languages and Indic scripts. Typing in Indic scripts is demanding, with two to three keystrokes required for just one syllable, Gupta said.
It’s a significant obstruction for widespread computer use. HP has designed “gesture-based keyboard,” a pen that uses a touch-sensitive pad to build syllables using the language’s base consonants. It was released to the market two weeks ago, Gupta said.
Hindi, spoken by about 400 million people in India, has 36 consonants. Strokes called maatras used in combination with those consonants make 1,500 distinct characters.
The pad has the base consonants, and when depressed, shows them on the screen. The maatras can be drawn on the pad, and the computer recognizes the syllable.
“This is the way we learn to write in India,” Gupta said. “The real beauty of this is its intuitiveness.”
The device, available for Hindi and Kannada languages, costs about 40 euros (US$48).
Insight into how India’s IT market will develop over the coming years can be found in how many consumers there buy a very untechnical product: shampoo, Gupta said.
Price-sensitive consumers in India choose single-use sachets rather than large bottles of shampoo, Gupta said. Demand exists, but not necessarily in the same quantity as in other markets, he said.
But consumers in India are not only concerned about cost but also quality, a trend IT manufacturers should note as they aim to satisfy the “critical mass of demand” predicted over the next 20 to 40 years in developing countries, Gupta said.
-Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service
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