HTC seeks Myanmar edge with local font phones

Sun Jan 13, 2013 4:11pm EST
 
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By Jeremy Wagstaff

YANGON (Reuters) - Peter Chou, CEO of Taiwan smartphone company HTC Corp, will on Monday launch what he hopes will be a major boost to both a backward tech sector in Myanmar, his country of birth, and to his company's share of one of the few untapped mobile markets: a phone that locals can use out of the box.

Until now, Chou says, Myanmarese users of mobile phones and computers must install fonts in their own language, a process that is cumbersome, often invalidates the device's warranty and has, he says, slowed innovation and the embrace of technology.

HTC has instead teamed up with a local distributor and a software developer to customize Google's Android operating system so its devices display local fonts and sport a dedicated and, Chou says, intuitive, Myanmar language onscreen keyboard.

"You don't have to spend two months to learn how to type it," Chou said in an interview ahead of the launch. "You just type it. We want to give people here a computing device they don't have to learn. They just try it, they just use it, they just get it."

Myanmar IT experts say that while the country's alphabet is no more complex than some other Asian scripts, a failure to agree how to apply an international standard for language symbols called Unicode to existing versions of the computer font has made it difficult to bake the language into software.

As a result, web pages and apps will often be unreadable.

BIG CHALLENGES, LITTLE PENETRATION

The issue of fonts may seem a basic one, but reflects the challenges Myanmar faces in catching up with its neighbors as it sheds decades of military control over politics and the economy. Myanmar has one of the lowest mobile penetration rates in the world, with only 3 percent of the population owning a phone in 2011, according to the World Bank. In neighboring Bangladesh, 56 percent of people have a mobile phone.   Continued...

 
Peter Chou holds one of his devices sporting a new Myanmar font ahead of Monday's launch of the product in Yangon January 13, 2013. REUTERS/Jeremy Wagstaff