Urdu typing made easier

Updated February 03, 2019

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CEO Arif Hisam ventures into the vast but underserved market of local language tech.— Dawn
CEO Arif Hisam ventures into the vast but underserved market of local language tech.— Dawn

DO you dread typing in Urdu while also feeling disgusted by the torture you subject the language and its delicate sounds to by writing everything in Latin script? Hey, me too. No worries, a local tech startup has you covered.

EasyUrdu is a keyboard that lets you type in Urdu. All you have to do is download the app, select it as your keyboard and start typing. Or if you are like me, with Urdu typing speed slower than a snail, you can instead type your text in Latin script and the app will transliterate everything into Urdu font. And if even that sounds like a task to you, well, just use the voice-to-text conversion.

The app is rather customisable with options to add local themes, like your favourite Pakistan Super League background. There is also an Urdu editor where you can add captions to photos in different fonts and scripts such as Nastaliq.

The keyboard can be integrated with any other app with a typing interface — from WhatsApp to Instagram — and uses Google for speech-to-text conversion. In fact, EasyUrdu feeds on Google and uses its stack for pretty much everything. The question then is, why exactly do you need a third-party app in the first place if the global giant is already doing it all?

Well, for starters, many people aren’t aware of what Gboard can do and that’s a market this startup is exploiting. “Most people don’t even know that Google can do voice-to-text conversion or use translation. And even otherwise, you have to activate the settings and install all the add-ons which can get complicated. In our product, you just have to tap the EasyUrdu option and it will enable the transliteration mode or use microphone for English-Urdu translation,” Product Manager Omama Ansari explains.

“Google, being the global giant it is, has a finger in every pie so they are not really focused towards Urdu, while for us, it’s a top priority,” says Pakdata CEO Arif Hisam, adding that “our product is more customisable and easier to use as well.”

Like any other keyboard, EasyUrdu has its own algorithms for word predictions based on frequency of usage and other factors. And this is another reason Hisam feels his app works better compared to the Gboard, thanks to Pakdata’s experience in local ­language softwares and an expansive Urdu database.

Within four years of its launch, EasyUrdu has attracted over five million downloads, making it one of the most downloaded Pakistan apps till date. “In addition to the major urban centres, we have a good user base in the second and third tier cities such as Khairpur,” Omama shares. Their market, however, is not limited to Pakistan. “There’s good traction from India where there is a sizeable Urdu speaking population as well as countries with significant Pakistani expatriates,” Hisam says.

The potential uses are many, from media houses to publications industry, but Hisam is not particularly looking to segment his market. “Our focus is the consumer market as that has the most juice,” Hisam says.

How do they make money? Their income primarily comes from in-appadvertisements, of which they have run a billion so far and given the app’s reach, it has done fairly well in terms of generating revenues. EasyUrdu also has an ad-free version for a lifetime fee of Rs250, but they have had a rather limited success in acquiring paid users so far as they account for less than one per cent of the total customers.

“We initially had only Google Pay for in-app purchases but since majority of our users don’t have a card, it wasn’t too successful. Recently we integrated with EasyPaisa to increase the number of paid subscribers but even that seems to be too much of a hassle for users. Plus, most of our users are based in tier two and three cities and they don’t mind the ads that much,” says Product Manager Omama Ansari, adding that “We might explore carrier billing options, which can penetrate the mass market much more efficiently as well to boost our paid subscribers.”

The app was funded in-house and Hisam wants to keep it that way, with no plans to seek external funding.

The startup was launched in 2016 by Pakdata, a Karachi-based data management company which has been working on softwares for local languages for a long time and ventured into app development in 2010 with its ‘Quran Majeed’. They have also developed Pashto and Sindhi keyboards and are currently working on an Urdu e-publishing platform by the name of Kitabi.

Everyone is well aware as to how much the country lags behind in terms of promoting local languages, especially in the tech arena. Whether Hisam and co can change that remains to be seen.

The writer is member of staff:

m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com

Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2019