Enabling Complex Asian Script on Mobiles

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Most of Asian languages are written with complex scripts which are cursive and context sensitive, and thus require equally complex mechanisms for rendering. Using Open Type Fonts technology, an open standard which has been adopted by proprietary as well as open source platforms, it is now possible to display complex Asian scripts on computers. However, these scripts are still not available for display on mobiles. This poses a significant barrier to more widespread use of mobile based content across developing Asia, hampering the associated socio-economic growth possibilities. Our project aimed to alleviate this problem associated with the support of complex Asian languages on mobile devices. The project has taken the language modules of Pango—a library for text layout and rendering with emphasis on internationalization available for computers, and has ported it them mobile platform. For this project, Symbian has been chosen as the mobile operating system as it is one of the most widely used platform on mobiles. This project has two components: one component deals with porting language specific modules of Pango to Symbian, and the other component is the development of an application (referred to as SMSLocalized Application) that can send/receive SMS in local languages using this ported Pango solution on mobile devices, as a proof of concept. Language specific modules of Pangocairo framework were compiled for Symbian platform and tested for Urdu and Khmer. More than 500 valid and complex Urdu words consisting of 2 to 8 characters selected and tested on Symbian S60 Emulator (WINSCW) and Nokia E51device. All the 500 ligatures were manually inspected and no errors are found. Similarly, Khmer words are also rendered on mobiles and tested. Successful rendering of open type fonts on Symbian using Pango shows that Pango is a strong candidate in the open source that can be used for text layout and rendering on smart-phones. SMSLocalized application was also deployed and tested on both windows emulator (Symbian S60 3rd Edition) and a real device Nokia E51. Application worked successfully on both of these platforms, allowing SMS in complex Asian scripts on mobile platform.

 What we deliver

The deployment of Pango and its language packs onto Symbian platform and associated SMS application enables end users to use their own languages on mobiles. The proof of concept has shows that this technology can provide support for all local language content based services. This is significant, as local language support is not currently available on mobile phones, especially for languages of developing Asia.

 Whom we deliver

This application is focused on enabling content in local languages on mobile devices. Making content available in local Asian languages is an enabler for people of developing Asia in utilizing true capabilities of mobile phones and their socio-economic growth. Therefore, very nature of this application increases the interactivity of end user with a mobile device. Another feature of the application is on-screen virtual keypad. This keypad is displayed on mobile screen and makes text entry very convenient in local languages. The keypad is configurable and can easily be customized for other languages, and has been tested for Urdu. The results of rendering are displayed on the mobile screen, as the user types his or her SMS message in the local language.

 Why is the project unique?

Current mobile devices generally support bitmap and True Type Fonts. Most of Asian languages scripts, on the other hand, are very cursive, context sensitive and complex, and can only be realized using Open Type Fonts. Open Type fonts are not supported on most of the mobile devices and smart-phones. This project is unique because it enables complex Asian scripts on mobile devices which are not currently supported on most of existing devices, by deploying existing open source rendering technology originally developed for multilingual script support on computers. The project has also devised an on-screen configurable key-pad to allow these language users to type their languages, if the keypad is not made available by the manufacturers. The work has been ported on Symbian platform, one of the most widely used in the mobile industry.


Mobiles are much more pervasive than computers, and with more powerful devices and lower connectivity rates, the mobile devices have a tremendous potential to address the digital divide, much more so than kiosks or computers, in the developing world. Local language (text, speech and video) based tools on mobiles devices will play a central role in dissemination of content online in the future.


Sarmad Hussain

PAN Localization Project, Center for Language Engineering, Al-Khawarizmi Institute of Computer Science

G. T. Road, Lahore, Pakistan


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