Android, the HTC Desire and Localisation.

Having recently stepped up our efforts to provide an Android version of AthensBook before the end Summer 2010, I’ve acquired an HTC Desire, the flagship Android phone from HTC, featuring the latest Sense UI, impressive hardware specs and a gorgeous display.

Sadly, while Android is a much more ‘open’ and an extremely fascinating platform (for enthousiasts, programmers and geeks alike) than the iPhoneOS, and despite the fact that I’ve been privileged enough to use the state of the art in that respect, it still feels rough in so many places that make it completely clear that what Apple have achieved with the Mac (and now the iPhone) is extremely admirable and that it has a long way to go until it provides a similarly trouble-free experience to its users.

Take for example localisation and multiple soft keyboard layout support (what Google calls IMEs). HTC ships with its own software ‘keyboard’, known as HTC IME with several layouts for a number of languages. It also includes support for Hellenic (Greek), but with a caveat: there is no way to change the keyboard layout to Hellenic once you choose to use an English locale for your phone. This means that if you like English, French or German menus you won’t be able to type Hellenic. At the same time choosing the Hellenic locale provides you with a togglable keyboard (English – Hellenic), leaving users that wish to have a localised phone in Hellenic and type in German helpless.

While this kind of anomaly, or more accurately, braindead design is not Google’s fault per se (in this case it is HTCs), Google shares some of the blame for not providing a more robust, comprehensive framework for supporting multiple locales AND at the same time supporting multiple, independent (from the locale) keyboard layouts on Android in a way that would allow someone to have, say, a Korean locale and a French keyboard, without depending on HTC (or any other manufacturer). If anything could be a good advice, “Copy Apple” is it in this case, as iPhoneOS 3.0 solved this problem admirably by completely decoupling keyboard layouts/languages from phone locale (menu, date, currency conventions etc.) and a large number of supported languages in both cases.

Scouring the various online fora and searching for the subject, I’ve come across two interesting aspects of this: first, that someone contacted HTC on the matter who just retorted that their phone was ‘locked’ to being used in certain countries, hence the lack of available keyboard ‘languages’ options. This is, to put it mildly, pathetic and very reminiscent of 1990s mobile phone standards. Second, that there is a ‘hack’ (or mod if you prefer) in the name of ‘HTC_IME mod‘ that provides this functionality along with many other features.

Which makes the situation even more pathetic and begs the question: why would HTC feel that in a generally open platform like Android they have to omit such basic, important, fundamental functionality forcing people that merely want to be those that decide the language of the menu of their phone and still at the same time be able to write in whatever language they feel like at any given point in time to spend time, energy and money, looking (let alone writing) hacks like ‘HTC_IME mod’ when they could have incorporated that functionality into their phones in the first place.

Android is a platform that has shown great promise and that already presents an amazing experience to its users. One of the problems it faces is fragmentation and botched implementations of basic functionality — such as keyboard layout switching — for no particular reason other than sheer stupidity on the part of the system developers/manufacturers and it’d be a shame if — in the long term — it would fail to lesser competitors because of them.

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2 Responses to “Android, the HTC Desire and Localisation.”

  1. Fatih Tolga Ata says:

    I’m with you. I’ve HTC Desire, and I couldn’t believe that htc keyboard is not localized when I bought the phone. Even now I didn’t find any solution for localized keyboard. I hope, it will be fixed in the next version of HTC sense(2.2).

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