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Myanmar Switch to Unicode to Take Two Years: App Developer

Long before the October 1 switch from the Zawgyi font to Unicode in Myanmar, technology experts expected the move to generate some resistance from users.

While the change is aimed at expanding communications and enabling greater compatibility with the rest of the world, the process of switching to the new system was expected to bring teething problems and technological challenges.

Indeed, a month into the Unicode roll-out, some have adopted the new font but others haven’t. Among the obstacles in making the switch are typing problems, and the bewildering variety of mobile phones. Most popular mobile phone apps in Myanmar only support the old Zawgyi font, so some users are unable to see text correctly in Unicode.

Ko Win Htut, developer of the Bagan Keyboard, an award-winning free Myanmar keyboard app for Android, said the country will take at least two years to adopt Unicode, and it’s crucial that every phone that comes on the market supports the new standard.

As of October 31, there were more than one million Unicode users, compared to 8.5 million Zawgyi users, according to Ko Win Htut, so about 15 percent of people use Unicode while 85pc use Zawgyi. The data was based on data collected from the more than 10 million Bagan Keyboard users.

In an interview, Ko Win Htut talked about the challenges users face in migrating to Unicode:

Why is your app important in Myanmar’s switch to Unicode? 

Bagan Keyboard was launched in 2013. At the time, Google keyboard didn’t include a Myanmar font, so I produced Bagan Keyboard. In beginning, I used the Zawgyi font, but in 2016, I added the Unicode font to our app. There are now about 10 million of users of Bagan Keyboard, so we can help with the Unicode roll-out.

“Some smartphones don’t support Unicode, so people just keep using Zawgyi.” 

Which smartphones use Unicode the most?

According to our data, Xiaomi, Samsung, Huawei, Vivo, OPPO buyers use Unicode the most. Zawgyi is used on 60pc of smartphones in Yangon, 20pc in Mandalay, and 20pc in other townships. Unicode is used on 75pc of smartphones in Yangon, 15pc in Mandalay, and 10pc in other townships. There are more Unicode users in major cities.

Why do some smartphones not yet support Unicode?

Phones that run on the Android 4.0 system and earlier versions do not support Unicode, but there are very few Android 4.0 phones on the market. Zawgyi comes pre-installed on some phones, so it is difficult to install Unicode on them, and some phones just don’t support Unicode, so people keep using Zawgyi. Also, people haven’t switched because Facebook still supports Zawgyi, so technicians need to step up to solve this issue.

Actually most people don’t know what font they are using; all they care about is being able to read text. It would be better if new phones came only with Unicode.

Unicode is a global standard font, so it’s important to use it if we want to keep up with the rest of the world. Companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Apple are all providing help for wider use of Unicode, as are local telecoms operators, keyboard developers like us, and smartphone manufacturers, so this is the best time to make the change.

What is the voice typing feature of Bagan Keyboard?

Voice typing is a system that uses voice to type texts. Voice command is an instruction by voice. Both are created with automated speech recognition (ASR). The ASR technology in Bagan Keyboard is artificial intelligence (AI)-based. These are also seen in Google.

In this system, you just say “I’ll check the bill” and it shows you the bill. Now there are just basic commands, but more commands will be included later.

We have been able to show that local technology developers are able to keep pace with Google regarding Myanmar-language ASR.

Why is Myanmar technology so important?

We can only use technology for a long time that is owned by Myanmar. As we live in a technological era, we need to have our own technology. Many software services, including Google, were banned in Myanmar before. We cannot connect Google AdSense with Myanmar bank accounts, so it is important to develop our own technology.

More than 500,000 people use Bagan Keyboard’s voice command and voice typing. Systems that use AI are quite accurate in commonly used words. Now, we’re trying to make our AI model better able to recognise words that aren’t used often, such as slang, jargon used in different occupations, and names of less-common objects.

Source: Myanmar Times

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